When the provincial government invested in repairs along Hewitt Road in 2017, Dale Elliott hoped that he and his neighbours would be able to travel safely to their homes.
But the repairs along the road that runs from a rural hillside down into Edgewater didn’t last a year, he said, and “certainly made it worse in some places.”
Mr. Elliott pointed out areas where spring melt runoff washed the road away in early May. He said the water moved so swiftly that it ushered rocks and sediment into the mouths of the culverts that were meant to slow the water and give it smooth passage along ditches on either side of the road.
With the culverts blocked or otherwise damaged, the water found other routes to blast down into Edgewater.
Some of his neighbours were left with so much sediment in their driveways, they could not get to or from their homes, Mr. Elliott said.
In other areas, like where Hewitt Road meets the Edgewater UV Water Plant driveway, the water carved deep trenches into the ground, cutting off access. Pylons marked the trench as a hazard where it blocked the driveway to the plant.
Loree Duczek, communications manager for the Regional District of East Kootenay, said in an email that although the driveway access was blocked, “staff are able to access the facility without issue and there is no impact to the water treatment or the facility.” She said she expected the access to be repaired within a few days and before this issue of the Pioneer would go to print.
Media relations officer Danielle Pope responded to questions from the Pioneer in an email on behalf of the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure.
“We know that flooding affected Hewitt Road last year, and work was done to make the road safe and passable. Unfortunately, significant flooding has taken place across the Southern Interior again this year,” she wrote. “Ministry staff have inspected Hewitt Road and repairs will be prioritized as the flood season passes. In the Southern Interior alone, the ministry is currently monitoring 243 sites and there are 29 road closures due to flooding.”
Resident George McLean – who spent 26 years in road construction between the provincial government and their contractor Mainroad East Kootenay Contracting – is concerned about the trenches that line the narrow road, which is disintegrating along the edges.
With as little as an inch of rain, he said, “these roads could just disappear.”
To demonstrate how seriously the road is failing, he kicked at the edge of the road, sending clumps into the trench below.
When Mr. Elliott built a road extension on his property, the provincial government required that the road be eight metres wide. At its best, Hewitt Road is seven metres wide. At its narrowest, most-damaged section, Mr. Elliott and Mr. McLean measured the width at 5.3 metres.
“How close do you dare drive to that edge?” Mr. Elliott asked rhetorically, noting the road is lined on both sides with “these ditches that will tip over a truck.”
According to Ms. Pope’s email, the ditches on both sides of the road are an advantage.
“Ditching improvements and additional transverse culverts have influenced the flow of water to use the ditches on both sides of Hewitt Road. Residents would have observed water in both ditches rather than an overabundance of water in one ditch,” she wrote.
The ministry’s maintenance contractor will repair the shoulder erosion and bring the road back to its previous
width, she wrote. An assessment is in progress and “future works will be considered after the spring run-off is finished.”
Mr. Elliott and Mr. McLean also raised concerns about a cave the water created along Hewitt Road in Edgewater. The cave is roughly one metre high and one metre wide. It runs for 34 meters, narrowing along the way.
“You wouldn’t last a minute in there if it fell on you,” Mr. Elliott said, adding that he’s afraid local children might be tempted to play in the tunnel.
On request from another ministry communications staffer, the Pioneer provided the specific location of the cave, following which Ms. Pope wrote that “remediation work is underway” at the site.
“People’s safety is the ministry’s top priority and we are doing everything possible to maintain safe road conditions,” she wrote.
Mr. Elliott and Mr. McLean don’t see much of an improvement following the 2017 repairs, but the ministry maintains that the “newly constructed debris basin has been successful in holding back a large volume of run-off water and reducing the outflow.”