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Fitzsimmons slump poses threat to village

Government report recommends debris catch basin be built



A just released government report confirms that Whistler is at risk from a debris flood if a landslide above the village occurs.

And the author, Vancouver based EBA Engineering, is recommending that a debris basin be built, at a cost of several million dollars, to protect North America’s No. 1 ski resort.

"(The slide’s) threat lies in its potential to dam Fitzsimmons Creek," states the report.

"The inevitable overtopping and breaching of such a dam could result in a flood or creation of debris flow which could have a severe impact on Whistler."

Such a debris flow would cascade down the creek into the day-skier parking lots and the public bus loop.

The report warns that choosing to do nothing but continue with current practices: "…fails to reduce the risk of loss of life or property due to a known hazard. This in turn leads to the potential for increased liability on the part of (Whistler) or significant negative publicity in the pre-Olympic period."

The report describes several levels of risk from the slump on Whistler Mountain. The authors found that the chance of the whole slump letting go, bringing close to 1 million cubic metres of debris into the village is, very low.

However, there are risks associated with the continued degradation of the slump and its continuous sloughing off of gravel into Fitzsimmons Creek. That is one reason why, said Bob Bugslag, director of the Provincial Emergency Program, the province has already stepped in and spent more than $200,000 on gravel removal from the lower Fitzsimmons Creek area.

"As long as you maintain the channel capacity then you mitigate those risks and they go from low to very low," he said.

Part of addressing the problem is understanding the nature of the risk and the trigger mechanisms said Bugslag, and that is where the report allows all the stakeholders to move forward.

"As long as you are diligent in terms of your monitoring program and you understand the natural trigger mechanism – say if you’ve got snowmelt and a week of heavy rain like we had in January of this year or 2003 – then you can put programs in place that will safeguard your population.

"In this case safeguarding the parking lot, so you may close it in those instances, so you develop an emergency strategy that addresses that specific hazard."

Bugslag added that Land and Water B.C. has engaged a second company to draw up conceptual designs for a catch basin, though there is no word yet on when the work might begin.

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