Mattawa binds together under state of emergency

·4 min read

Yesterday, Mattawa’s Mayor Raymond Bélanger signed the papers declaring the town was in a state of emergency due to rising water levels in the Mattawa and Ottawa Rivers. “We definitely are in a minor flooding condition right now. We hope for the best and prepare for the worse.”

Since Monday, the Mayor has attended “constant meetings” with municipal staff, the Red Cross, and the Municipal Emergency Control Group. The municipality is maintaining frequent communication with the Ottawa River Control Group, the North Bay Mattawa Conservation Authority, and Ontario Power Generation, which controls the dams along the river.

See: Mattawa declares state of emergency as rivers rise

“The water is high, people are starting to get nervous,” he said. The town has been preparing for months he added, “everybody was ready” for when the state of emergency was called. Half an hour after it was called, the town had heavy equipment on Mattawan Street – which runs parallel to the river – to build a gravel and sand berm to fend off the flood.

Today, sandbagging began behind the arena and crews were bringing those to residents along Timmins Street, James Street and to Turcotte Park.

“I was around for 2019,” Mayor Bélanger said, referring to the year of the flood that caused much damage to the town. “And we were chasing our tail because we had next to no warning.”

This time, communication with all of the agencies and the Municipal Emergency Group is much better. On Tuesday, numbers came in that the water could rise 22 centimeters. Eight hours later, that estimate rose to 60 centimeters. “I thought it best to sign the declaration and get the plan in motion.”

“It’s more precautionary than emergency right now, but we’re ready.”

Some residents felt the town waited too long to act. “You can do it too soon, and you might not need it,” Mayor Bélanger said. However, after the news of a possible 60-centimeter rise, he decided it was time to act.

Residents also asked why the dam further down stream wasn’t opened to relieve the levels around Mattawa. The Mayor explained that the Ottawa River Control Group said that opening that dam further would create greater pressure on the next reservoir area and the water would back up even more in town.

“They have to find a way to keep the flow going. If we do that, your situation would be ten-fold,” the Mayor said, paraphrasing what the Ottawa River Control Group told him.

“We’re fighting Mother Nature,” and to do so the town had 47,000 sandbags at the ready, twenty loads of sand, and five sandbagging stations set up.

This morning, Amy Moore and her father came out to fill some of those bags. Moore noted that “some sections of the road are already flooded” around James Street, and she was thankful “that everyone came out and participated” in filling bags.

Around lunch the senior class from Élisabeth-Bruyère Catholic High School were bussed in to lend a hand.

Another volunteer, Patrick O’Hare, is a volunteer firefighter in Redbridge who lives in Mattawa. He helped during the 2019 flood, putting in about 50 hours a week for the community. “There was so much struggle in the community, everybody was hurt.”

“It destroyed many homes and people’s property,” O’Hare said. “So I’m out here doing the best I can today to try to minimize that damage.”

Last night he was helping bag sand and build a berm at Sid Turcotte Park, as the water level was slowly creeping too close for comfort to the main office building.

“To see people come together like this makes it feel familiar,” to the 2019 event, O’Hare said. “Being a small community its easy for all of us to come together.”

“To me everybody’s family in a small community like this. Everybody’s got to look out for each other. It’s the only way to get by.”

The Mayor asked all of Mattawa “to be ready, secure your place and have a bag ready” as per the Red Cross’ suggestion, just in case the water keeps rising. “It’s a sad time for us again, but you have to make the best out of a terrible situation.”

“I feel sad that people have to go through this,” the mayor said. “It’s so unfortunate. But Mattawa always rallied, and we’ll pull through again, and we’ll work on some more permanent protection in the future.”

David Briggs is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of BayToday, a publication of Village Media. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

David Briggs, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter,