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Port McNeill talks about action to mitigate landslide risks

The site of a Nov. 9, 2016 landslide on Beach Drive in Port McNeill.  - JOHN HARDING PHOTO
The site of a Nov. 9, 2016 landslide on Beach Drive in Port McNeill.
— image credit: JOHN HARDING PHOTO

Port McNeill's community hall was filled with concerned residents last week voicing their thoughts on the Beach Drive Landslide Hazard Assessment report issued in February.

More than 50 residents showed up to the public meeting, said Port McNeill Mayor Shirley Ackland, who said the event featured an in-depth presentation from engineer Eric McQuarrie.

Ackland said residents had previously received copies of the report about a month ago, "and there were over 20 great questions asked by the public."

McQuarrie recommended in his report that a trial pullback be done along the head scarps of the 1999 and 2012 landslides, continuing along the adjacent slope above Beach Drive in order to assess the level of risk mitigation.

The trial pullback (a dig)will be done on a specific area "the geo-tech has chosen," said Ackland. "It is easy to access, and will give us a better idea of the cost regarding the entire area that we're concerned with."

Port McNeill has a history of landslides, due to the steep embankment above Beach Drive. Here are a few of the more significant landslides described in past reports:

• October 1981: several small slides were reported plus one larger slide that ran out beyond the road near 2238 Beach Drive;

• Oct. 8, 1992: five recent failures noted including one that ran out across the road between 2388 and 2400 Beach Drive;

• Feb. 11, 1999: a slide ran out across the road onto the property at 2146 Beach Drive;

• Nov. 16 2002: a slide ran out across the road and onto the property at 2168 Beach Drive. This slide is immediately east of the 1999 slide;

• April 8, 2003: a small slide occurred opposite 2226 Beach Drive, close to the October 1981 slide but did not reportedly cross the road;

• March 29, 2015: a slide occurred opposite 2298 Beach Drive, below a culvert outlet. The slide reached the road and moved some of the barriers, but was mostly contained;

• Feb. 5, 2016: a small slide is reported by the town, but no location given; and

• Nov. 9, 2016: a few small slides plus one larger slide that crossed the road and damaged the house at 2324 Beach Drive. This slide was very close to the March 2015 slide.

At the conclusion of the public meeting last week, Port McNeill council passed a resolution for the town to implement McQuarrie's recommendations, which will help begin the process of mitigating the risk of future landslides.

"Council realized this was just one step going forward," said Ackland, adding the town will also be having discussions in the future on things like a steep-bank bylaw and possibly suspending building permits on Beach Drive.

"It was a very good meeting. There were some great questions from the residents and some great suggestions," she said. "We've followed through on the public meeting, addressed their concerns, and recognized that this is a serious issue. We made sure to put $100,000 into this year's budget so we can get started on the trial pullback. Once we pass the budget, it'll happen as soon as the ground dries out."

"I thought it was necessary to hear directly from the engineer's point of view," said local resident Chuck Lok, who had read a letter from Jim Whyte (whose house was hit by the Nov. 9, 2016 landslide) during the presentation.

In a brief phone interview with The Gazette, Whyte said he thinks the town is now in "a wait-and-see mode, as to what the geotech really comes up with."

He added council should be applauded for being open and inviting community participation, and that the bottom line is "we're so very thankful no one was injured. The greatest fear I have is we're running out of chances — the risk keeps getting higher that something terrible could happen."

Whyte stressed it's about "finding the problem and dealing with why these landslides keeps happening. I'm hopeful, and we gotta be positive about it. McQuarrie has brought us along quite a ways, and it's time we got this done and put it to bed."

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