The reality that the Bella Coola airport is both crucial and threatened was shown dramatically during the floods of 2010 and 2011 when the valley lost its airport because of dike failure, says the Central Coast Regional District’s emergency program co-ordinator.
“Our biggest initiative right now is trying to get the airport dikes rebuilt and extended. The federal and provincial governments gave us $2.3 million towards a dike upgrade project. We have to come up with another $1.25 million as a community,” Stephen Waugh says.
The dike-replacement estimates sit between $2.5 and $3.5 million.
“That process is still underway, getting the engineering design and an accurate budget. It’s a very involved process because we have to get a really good estimate of the cost and then we would have to take that cost — $1.25 million, plus interest for financing, plus any maintenance costs forever because we would have to own this dike forever if we agree to fix it.”
Waugh says the province has orphaned all airport dikes, and told communities if they want to do anything to repair them they have to be done to a certain standard. That’s put an onus on small communities like Bella Coola that have a tax base of 900 to 1,000 people at the most.
At its meeting on June 14, the board will consider three different engineering designs, and hopefully engage one of the engineering companies to tender out.
Those costs would have to go to referendum and voters would have to decide if they want to become the authority to do the dike work.
That’s the first big hurdle, Waugh explains.
Bella Coola’s airport was constructed in 1978 and was partly protected with minimal diking. However, after there was some flooding there was an upgrade and extension done to the dike around 1984.
Nothing has been done since then and in 2010 it failed and the community lost its airport for three days until it could be patched.
“We know it’s critical infrastructure and we know the dike is failing because it did already. It’s the only one that has completely failed on us so far.”
The airport is really important in emergency situations, particularly floods, because typically road access is cut off.
In 2010, they lost road access in 14 places.
“There’s no question the airport is really, really important to us and that it’s threatened,” he says.
Currently the dike is an L-shape that covers about 1.3 kilometres. With the upgrade, it’s hoped it can be extended to cover two km.
It goes atop one end of the runway and then half way down the runway on one of the sides. An earthen structure, with a gravel top and a rip-rapped face, it is about two and a half metres deep on the land side and quite a bit deeper on the Bella Coola River side.
Ironically, Waugh points out, the CCRD applied for the funds to upgrade its dike back in 2010 the day before the Sept. 25, 2010 flood.
“I just had it finished off and submitted and then I went to Anahim Lake and it flooded.”