White Rock needs to start a major $1 million-plus project to stabilize the retaining wall below Marine Drive – or face the possibility of disintegration of one lane of the road in the Hump area between West Beach and East Beach.
At its May 4 meeting council heard from chief administrative officer Dan Bottrill and engineering and municipal operations director Jim Gordon that the need for stabilization of the wall has become pressing.
Bottrill cited recent slides in the Coldicutt Ravine and other ravine areas.
“Thank goodness they did not occur here,” he said. “We had no idea that slope failure could occur, or would occur.”
He said that while slippage has been slight so far, the area, between Cypress Street and Johnston Road, is being monitored by the city’s consulting geotechnical engineers.
“It’s not a question of whether or not this work should be done – it has to be done,” he warned. “Whether or not you can let this go for another year or so would be up to you as a council.”
But council ultimately delayed the decision on awarding the contract for the project – which has already gone through the bid process – and deferred it once again at its May 11 meeting.
Action is pending a further report from staff and the BIA on the impact of a summer project on already hard-hit Marine Drive businesses and further clarification of the historic legal status of the roadway.
Although the retaining wall abuts the waterfront rail line, and may be technically on BNSF Railway property, it’s highly unlikely that any of the costs will be picked up by BNSF, according to Bottrill and Gordon.
“I do not believe there’s any chance that BNSF will pay a dollar for the work that needs to be done,” Bottrill said. “I’m pretty sure that BNSF is not going to try to save Marine Drive as a road, even if it is on their property.”
“If the land is BNSF’s land, and there were a slide, there’s no guarantee that they would repair the slide in such a way that it would still support the road,” Gordon said.
“From an engineering point of view it would be much easier to use that width of roadway just to create a slope. If I owned a railway that’s the way I’d fix it.”
Coun. David Chesney had suggested the railway might have to take some responsibility for stabilization of the retaining wall and the slope, based on long-standing local beliefs that the actual line dividing city property and land leased from BNSF, sits in the middle of Marine Drive.
“I’d hate to see that road fall away – it has fallen away in the past,” Chesney said, in comments on his motion requesting documentation on the city’s responsibility for the retaining wall.
“I don’t understand why, now, we the residents of White Rock are on the hook for over a million dollars,” he said.
Chesney also commented that if there were a possibility of further slides westward toward Crescent Beach, “BNSF would fix that.”
“If there’s slope stability (issues) adjoining their railway track, I believe it’s up to them to stabilize that slope.”
But Bottrill said it’s his belief that White Rock had inherited sole responsibility for upkeep of Marine Drive from Surrey, at the time it split from the municipality in 1957.
Coun. Christopher Trevelyan was among those who expressed concern about the project running during the summer, when provincial health restrictions may be relaxed, noting that if it starts in May, it would still be underway in August.
“Having major construction for two months throughout the entire summer would not really look good for us if it’s opening up and businesses want to get going,” he said
Gordon explained in his report to council, however, that there is increasing evidence that action needs to be taken on the retaining wall.
“We do have some issues on Marine Drive around the Hump – between Cypress and Johnston,” he said.
“There are two settled areas; there’s settlement, there’s lateral movement, we’ve had a consulting geotechnical engineer look at it.
“It does need to be fixed – we’re vulnerable in the case of an earthquake or even some other ground movement. We want to get this job done.”
Lowest, and best-value, bid for the work was submitted by Greystone Design Management, which worked for the city on restoring East Beach following the catastrophic storm of December 2018, Gordon said.
He added that staff believe that the current closure of the promenade and diminished activity on the waterfront due to COVID-19 concerns makes this an “opportune” time to tackle the project.
“With the closure, it gives the opportunity to do it with less disruption to the public,” he said. “Also, working in the summer, there’s a lot less chance of weather risk which could balloon our costs, engineering costs and, potentially, claims from the contractor.”
The project would mean shifting pedestrian traffic to the north side of Marine Drive in a two-metre pathway protected by concrete highway medians, he said.
Trevelyan asked whether there was any chance to delay the project until the fall, to avoid it impacting businesses during the summer months.
“We could do it in the fall,” Gordon said. “But when you do it in the rainy season there’s a weather-related risk, ground conditions could get wet, you could be delayed and then your inspection costs and engineering costs go up.”