Giant sandbags block both floodwater and traffic on an empty Canada Avenue earlier this week. (Submitted)

Businesses frustrated by Canada Avenue flood closure in Duncan

"As a business, we lost a lot of sales the last two days because people couldn't get there."

The Municipality of North Cowichan is defending its actions after Canada Avenue merchants expressed frustration on Monday and Tuesday as floodwater down the street from their businesses prompted a significant portion of the road’s closure, which resulted in fewer customers.

Debbie Wood of Lucky Dog U-Bath said that while she understands the road clearly needed to be closed, the location of the southern barrier was too far away from where the water was.

“Yes there’s big flooding and I understand the Municipality of North Cowichan has their hands full but the barrier at the end of Beverly was keeping traffic from coming down,” she explained. “The businesses aren’t flooded, it’s quite a ways down the road at the pump station.”

Wood said her business was cut in half over the first two days of the week “and by the looks of those giant sandbags, it looks like [the road] is not going to be open any time soon,” she said.

“I’m just thinking that the barrier could be further down with just warning signs at Beverly saying that the road is closed.”

Wood said her issue is that the businesses are open and should be accessible.

“The vet clinic’s parking lot looks like a ghost town. There’s a new chocolate shop right next to me, she depends on drive by traffic because she just opened. I’ve had people actually stop at Beverly, park at the foot of Beverly and walk their daycare dogs to my shop so that they can bring their dogs in but about half the dogs aren’t here so there’s people that just don’t think we’re open,” she said.

Wood said she hopes the problem could be resolved for any future events. And she’s not the only one.

Tom Denninger, the manager at the Co-op gas station on Canada Avenue, said he, too, had been frustrated.

“They moved the barrier,” he said Tuesday afternoon. “It still bugs me that the road flooded but I don’t think there’s anything I can do about that. They have a big pump there but it doesn’t seem to pump water.”

Denninger said he didn’t want to be too critical because he didn’t know the details about the pump’s operations but clearly something wasn’t working.

“It’s just been frustrating,” he said. “As a business, we lost a lot of sales the last two days because people couldn’t get there. It’s been frustrating, let’s put it that way.”

North Cowichan director of engineering Dave Conway explained that when the road was first closed it was while the storm event was in progress.

“We wanted to make sure we had operational room,” he said. “We were allowing vehicles to go through to businesses that we knew were clear of any flooded roadway and that’s why we had traffic control people present throughout the day Monday and Tuesday morning.”

As of Tuesday morning, the storm event had passed and crews were able to shrink the closure area down knowing they weren’t going to be hit with another big rain.

“Certainly we were able to react quickly upon hearing from the business owners,” he said.

Had the rain continued, it may have been another story.

Conway noted that there are three gaps in the dike system they have to close up in big storm situations: Canada Avenue, the Trans Canada Highway and Lakes Road.

“We have a plan and a method to close each of those as a storm event progresses,” he explained. What also contributes to the flooding on Canada Avenue is the creek behind the police station breaching its banks and flowing out onto the road as well.

“The pump system, which is multiple pump stations, performed its job very well given that this storm event from a riverflow perspective was at least 20 per cent bigger than the devastating one in 2009,” he said.

North Cowichan’s communications manager Natasha Horsman summed it up:

“The river flowed higher than in 2009 and all that we at North Cowichan have experienced is a road closure on Canada Ave and a couple other really minor road closures and detours. For us it’s actually a really good story.”

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