Fort Simpson considers restricting vehicle access to Mackenzie Drive due to rapid erosion

·3 min read
An aerial shot of the erosion taking place along Mackenzie Drive in Fort Simpson, N.W.T. (Submitted by Brandon Buggins - image credit)
An aerial shot of the erosion taking place along Mackenzie Drive in Fort Simpson, N.W.T. (Submitted by Brandon Buggins - image credit)

The mayor of Fort Simpson said there will be discussion on whether further vehicle restrictions are needed on Mackenzie Drive as the riverbank continues to rapidly erode.

The road was already turned into a one-way after last year's spring flooding, but Mayor Sean Whelly said there will be considerations on if it should be limited to local traffic only.

Drone shots show large chunks of ground collapsing at the edge of the bank, and in some areas the collapse is so far inland that the road is turning into the river escarpment. This stretch of erosion goes from the health centre to the N.W.T. Power Corporation building, a distance of about 500 metres.

The drone images were captured by Brandon Buggins, a resident and council member of Łı́ı́dlı̨ı̨ Kų́ę́ First Nation.

"Since the flood last year, the 2021 flood, a lot of the riverbank has seen a significant change of pace," he said.

Buggins said as a resident, he is concerned for the safety of his community.

The erosion has changed the bank from a natural slope to a nearly straight drop into the swelling Mackenzie River, he said.

There's also undercutting, meaning the ground below the edge is disappearing but it isn't visible from those looking toward the river from Mackenzie Drive. This can be dangerous as people will walk to the edge to check out the bank, not knowing the ground below them is unstable, Buggins said.

"It is a huge concern, especially for the safety of a lot of our members here within our community," he said.

Buggins said he plans to bring the subject up at the next band council meeting on Tuesday.

He said he thinks the road should be limited to local traffic only.

'This is not cheap': mayor

Sean Whelly, Fort Simpson's mayor, said the erosion has been an ongoing concern, but is rapidly becoming worse.

"Probably seeing more big chunks coming off the bank than we've seen in quite a few years. I think it's probably because we've had so much high water over the last year," he said.

Luke Carroll/ CBC
Luke Carroll/ CBC

When the road was turned into a one-way, cement blocks were placed along the edge to prevent any vehicles from getting too close.

"I noticed even some of the cement blocks that were used to kind of mark off the edge of where the safe zone is, they've started to peel off the bank and go down into the river themselves," Whelly said.

He said the power corporation, which is near the eroding bank, is considering moving to higher ground.

But Whelly said there are other risks to key infrastructure, including the water intake line that runs along Mackenzie Drive to the water treatment plant.

He said there's fear that erosion could damage that intake line and cut off the community's access to water.

Whelly said that rerouting the water intake supply will likely be a part of next summer's capital plan.

But that is only the beginning of what will need to happen to prevent erosion — and flooding — from damaging the island that makes up most of the community.

"I don't think we can stop nature, we're going to just have to mitigate what we've got here," Whelly said.

"See this where the big money starts to happen because you start moving big infrastructure away from the river bank. This is not cheap."

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