Petition drive ends dike debate

The River Road dike project has been sunk for good.

City council voted 7-2 on Monday night to discontinue the proposal in its current form rather than take the issue to a referendum after a petition campaign attracted 9,271 signatures against the project,

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Just prior to that decision, council voted 6-3 against seeking an extension of the deadline for completing the work, which had to be done by February 2014 to attract funding from the federal and

provincial governments.

Had the petition drive fallen short of attracting at least 5,351 names, city council likely would have approved a bylaw to borrow nearly $3.56 million to cover the city's share of the $11.5 million project.

A further $2.5 million would have come out of the city's land reserve fund while the federal and provincial governments committed to $5.4 million in January, pending the city's contribution. The dike would have run for 3.3 kilometres between River Road and the Nechako River's south bank.

Holding a referendum would have cost the city $55,000 to $60,000 and had to be held by July 7, or within 80 days of the April 24 deadline for the alternative approval process. Servicing the debt on the $3.56 million would have cost $280,000 a year, it was also noted.

Recent snowpack figures indicate flooding on the scale seen in 2007-08 is coming, but petition organizer Eric Allen noted work to raise River Road to the 200-year floodplain has already been completed and could be all that's needed.

Coun. Cameron Stolz suggested turning to the private sector to pay the city's portion of the dike cost and Coun. Brian Skakun said that probably should have been attempted at the beginning. If all had worked out, no money would have needed to be borrowed and no counterpetition process would have been required, Skakun said.

Coun. Garth Frizzell noted a private investor is paying half the city's share of the Boundary Road project, "so a precedent has been set." However, city manager Derek Bates said the terms of the federal-provincial grant would have to be revisited to see if another party could be brought onboard.

Coun. Frank Everitt said a referendum should have been held in the first place and suggested the city ask the federal and provincial governments for more time so one can be held.

"I think that governments understand delays and in my mind, we've got a delay in front of us," Everitt said.

Coun. Dave Wilbur said a

referendum could be held alongside the 2014 civic election.

"We could make it an issue in the election," Wilbur said. "People would have to stand up and say what they feel about it."

Stolz dismissed calls for dredging, saying that according to an engineer's report if a strip as wide as a two-lane road was dug 10 feet deep from the Cameron Street Bridge to the confluence with the Fraser, the Nechako would actually only be lowered by only a foot.

Wilbur also dismissed dredging.

"We hired the very best engineers to look at that possibility," Wilbur said. "The report is on the website and the people that I've spoken to that are firmly convinced that dredging is the answer have never read the report and don't seem to have any appetite to read it. They don't seem to want to have their notion of what will fix it counter-pointed by some facts from somebody who knows more than I do."

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