The flood and the campground: an Agassiz case study in flood-prone development

Pathfinder Campground wants to add 24 RV sites to a neighbouring field. Nearby residents are concerned it will exacerbate flooding concerns.

By Grace Kennedy and Tyler Olsen

Owners of an Agassiz campground want to expand their site, but neighbours are worried that adding more RV sites will and increase the likelihood that nearby properties could be underwater during future storms.

It’s a local issue with local implications. But with a growing spotlight on the flood-prone Fraser Valley, and discussions about which areas should be off-limits to further development, other communities could soon face a similar reckoning.

Pathfinder Campground’s soggy proposal

Last November, Agassiz faced one massive landslide that tore across a major highway and stranded a number of people in the debris. But away from the major disasters, the community also dealt with its share of localized flooding. At Pathfinder Camp Resorts on Lougheed Highway, just west of the Agassiz townsite, rain and runoff filled a ditch that separated the campground from neighbouring properties. To keep the RV sites and buildings dry, owners of the campground pumped water onto a neighbouring field they also own.

At the time, residents were concerned about the water that spilled off the field and into their properties. But they were also worried about what future developments there could do to their future flood risk.

At a public hearing last month, at least five residents said they were concerned that developing the field would just make future flooding worse. (Two others sent emails.) The hearing came as Kent council was set to decide whether Pathfinder Camp Resorts should be allowed to extend its campsite to a neighbouring field on Lougheed Highway. (You can read the Current’s story on the proposal here.)

“We were flooding with nowhere to put our water and they had nowhere to put their water,” neighbour Chris Bray said, according to minutes from the public hearing. “So we just sat there and swam for two weeks. That’s our concern with that field getting rezoned.”

Kristina Bray, who lives on the same property as Chris, agreed.

“The November rain event was nuts. I don’t suspect that will happen again. But I will say, the property has their sump pumps pumping onto our property. So should this happen again, even just a small portion of water would hurt us.”

Other neighbours noted that the field where Pathfinder put the excess water was very low—something that would likely change if RV sites are built on that site. Although the land can currently hold a lot of water, adding raised areas for buildings and 24 RV pads (or raising the entire property, as was done for the current campground) would reduce the amount of water that area could store.

Fixing a flood-prone future

BC’s flood experts have said the province and individual communities need to take a comprehensive look at how to minimize future risks—and how to design communities for a world where floods are more common.

To that end, the province is currently creating a new flood strategy that will outline principles for how BC can reduce its flood risk. That strategy will focus on investing in flood accommodation and avoidance, according to Andrew Giles, the manager of BC’s River Forecast Centre and Flood Safety branch, who spoke to The Current in March. It will also ensure that new development won’t happen in floodplains and will consider retreating from hazard areas, as well as investing in flood protection for existing development.

“We need to find ways of protecting those [areas] that aren’t able to be flood-proofed…or where we can’t avoid that risk in other ways,” he said.

Giles also spoke about how locals can take the lead in finding ways to reduce flood risk.

Community leaders can play a key role by not allowing new development in flood-prone areas, and by “trying to find ways of working with water for the existing uses,” he said. Giles pointed to successes in Grand Forks, where that community bought out some property owners after floods four years ago, while investing in dikes and wetlands to both prevent and accommodate future floods.

Back at the Agassiz campground

In Agassiz, residents are already applying some of those principles by questioning whether a campsite should be developed on what appears to be flood-prone property. The campground owners, on the other hand, seem confident those concerns can be alleviated with proper planning.

Ryan Anderson, a representative for OTG Development, the company contracted out by the campground owners, told council that the owners planned to study how the existing ditch could accommodate more water to ensure neighbouring homes aren’t flooded in the event of another storm. This would focus on the existing campground, and would have implications for the expansion as well. But, Anderson said, the November storms were “an anomaly.”

“We understand there has been some flooding in the past, prior to doing the raising, but this was an extremely exacerbated condition,” he said.

“If we continue on with the same one, we don’t have a specific obligation to address the drainage. We don’t want to be in that position. We want to be in a position where we can address drainage concerns and understand how to make sure that the whole community and all the neighbours are in a better spot going forward.”

Staff noted that although the whole campsite doesn’t need to be built to the flood construction level required for buildings, it does need to be designed so it doesn’t flood on a regular basis. The floodplain system for the site needs to be designed for a one-in-200 year flood, but the drainage only needs to be designed for a one-in-20 year flood.

Kent council discussed the proposal following the public hearing. Coun. Susan Spaeti said she was against the redevelopment on principle, as the field is agricultural land. (It is exempt from ALR rules, as it is under two acres, and is currently zoned for rural residential.)

Ultimately, council agreed to table the rezoning motion until staff could help the applicants deal with their drainage issues, as well as other concerns like fencing and noise complaints brought up by residents.

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