Flooding in and around Pioneer Square on Willowdale Drive in Armstrong in May was extensive. (Kaigo photo)

Flooding concerns recapped

Pioneer Square facility hit by two major floods in five years

The City of Armstrong needs a long-term solution to manage large amounts of water.

And there’s no argument on that from council.

Noreen Guenther, regional manager for the Kaigo Senior Living Group, which operates Pioneer Square, a 20-unit assisted living facility on Willowdale Drive, gave council her concerns and opinions in a presentation Monday after the facility experienced two major flooding events in the past five years, including a big one in May.

“In our lay opinion, proposed changes will not be sufficient on their own,” said Guenther, a former councillor in Lake Country. “Some residents and businesses may not be able to afford flood insurance in the future. Council could consider applying for a climate adaptation partner grant.”

Each resident at Pioneer Square has their own apartment and own belongings. The site provides residents with meals and housekeeping services.

On May 5, heavy rain and rapid snow melt caused water from nearby Meighan Creek and an overflowing drainage system to enter the nine residents’ suites on the ground floor. Those residents were initially relocated to the living room on the upper floor.

The water continued to raise on the lower floor until, Guenther said, it reached waist height, eliminating electricity and hot water.

“The decision was made to evacuate all 20 of our elderly residents,” she said, the majority of which were transferred to Kaigo’s Heritage Square and Creekside Landing buildings in Vernon.

“They remained there for several weeks, housed six per room, in the activity room, library and a couple of empty suites, until the electrical services could be restored and the upper floor occupied again.

“This setting was very stressful on many of the residents but community efforts from such organizations like the Mennonite Central Committee, Lions Club, local businesses and community members helped ease the strain of this unfortunate event.”

The estimated cost of the May 2017 flood for Pioneer Square is $500,000. Residents estimate they lost an additional $125,000 in personal belongings.

On July 27, 2012, the lower floor of Pioneer Square was flooded following a heavy rainfall and freak hail storm. Residents then were relocated to the upper floor or chose to stay with family members.

At the highest peak this year, said Guenther, Kaigo’s restoration company estimates roughly 200,000 gallons of water entered the facility – roughly one-third the amount of water contained in an Olympic-sized swimming pool.

“We do not profess to be engineers, however, a lay person could failry say that the amount of water that entered Pioneer and the adjoining properties would not have been managed even if this drainage plan had proceeded,” said Guenther, who added that site staff met with the City of Armstrong’s public works department in April 2017 to discuss drainage improvements and sidewalk changes on Willowdale Drive.

She said they were told the sidewalk was being removed from the Pioneer side of the street. Guenther said site staff provided input that, at a minimum, they would require a sidewalk from the bottom of the stairs to the fire lane to provide access and mobility for its residents with walkers and wheelchairs.

“We realize it’s a serious problem, and we agree something has to happen,” said Armstrong Mayor Chris Pieper, who has a personal connection to Pioneer Square as his mother-in-law is a resident. “But it’s not just Meighan Creek. It’s the whole Okanagan watershed. We can’t control the water coming into town, and dredging Meighan Creek only transfers the problems to somewhere else.

“This will have to involve provincial ministries, the Ministry of Forests, who own the Crown land, the Township of Spallumcheen, First Nations and land owners.”

Guenther provided some possible suggestions for council to consider to alleviate flooding concerns, such as creating infrastructure to deal with severe flooding incidents, creating diversion canals or wetlands to divert excessive water flow, or building dams.

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