A decade after it was destroyed by ice jams, Prince George considers how to rebuild popular park

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A decade after it was destroyed by ice jams, Prince George considers how to rebuild popular park

A decade after the Nechako River froze, causing major damage to parts of Prince George, B.C., the city is deciding how much to invest in repairing it and how to prepare for future events.

The conversation is happening in many Canadian cities. Some question whether it's worth rebuilding if flooding is expected to regularly recur.

In Dec. 2007, an extended cold snap in Prince George caused ice to jam the Nechako, resulting in evacuations and a localized state of emergency in some sections of the city.

It also rendered large portions of popular riverside trails unusable, a problem that has been compounded by smaller-scale flooding in subsequent years.

A recent review of the park resulted in a series of recommendations on how to repair those trails, and, now, the city is asking for public feedback on whether people are willing to spend the money associated with making them.

"Cottonwood Island Park — it's a jewel. It's a jewel in the city. People love it," explained Michael Le Morvan, project manager for the city. 

"Are we going to lose it, or are we going to put some money in it?... It depends what people say."  

The problem of maintaining riverside attractions is one facing many Canadians cities as water levels change. 

In Saskatoon, a $2.8 million retaining wall is being built to protect a residential neighbourhood from erosion along the Saskatchewan River. In Manitoba, flooding has become a recurring issue, prompting Ottawa to support new engineering plans for riverside communties.

Some climatologists have suggested the better solution is for cities to abandon areas built on flood plains, rather than continuously pay for repairs.

Le Morvan said that could be an option, but, given public feedback so far, it's not likely Prince George residents will be willing to give up on their riverside trails. Riverside access has also been identified as a top priority in a series of public consultations, including the 2017 Parks Strategy. 

"What people can tell you is it's one of the primary places they like to come and visit," he said.

"In the summer you can see tourists. I have met people from Europe, people from the United States ... a place like this so close to downtown, they love it."

The preferred option to protect the parks involves using a combination of rip-rap, which is a breakwater made of stone, trenching and vegetation to repair and slow erosion of the riverbank. The estimated cost for the plan is over $1 million.

An open house on the project is being held Nov. 23 and public feedback is open until Dec. 8.

The plan will then be presented to city council.

With files from Jordan Tucker