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Whither the river: Rethinking an Assiniboine strategy

Flooded First Street North and Dinsdale Park, with the Brandon downtown skyline behind.

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Flooded First Street North and Dinsdale Park, with the Brandon downtown skyline behind. (FILE)

A fallen tree sits in the mud and silt behind the ball diamond at Queen Elizabeth Park, which is still heavily damaged by this summer's flood.

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A fallen tree sits in the mud and silt behind the ball diamond at Queen Elizabeth Park, which is still heavily damaged by this summer's flood. (TIM SMITH/BRANDON SUN)

Ribbon cutting at the newly opened Discovery Centre on June 26, 1999.

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Ribbon cutting at the newly opened Discovery Centre on June 26, 1999. (COURTESY OF RIVERBANK DISCOVERY CENTRE)

Brandon’s historic flood of 2011 was called a "one-in-300-year" event. But just three years later, the Assiniboine River reached even higher levels — once again devastating areas along the riverbank.

Lois MacDonald, manager of Brandon Riverbank Inc., says it’s time for a "philosophical shift" for not only the organization, but the community and City of Brandon on how to move forward.

"Once you have two-in-three-year odds, we need to change how we’re thinking completely," MacDonald said. "Maybe this will never happen again, but that’s not what people are saying. We’re seeing what one rain event can do."

It’s nearly the end of summer, and many of the city’s parks are still closed, including Eleanor Kidd, Optimist and Queen Elizabeth.

The Riverbank Discovery Centre lost about 20 more feet of property to the river during the summer flood, creating an unstable riverbank. The pedestrian bridge remains inaccessible. The 1,700 trees and shrubs replanted last year did not survive.

MacDonald said the Riverbank board of directors will be doing some "soul-searching" to see how to move the organization forward.

"I think we’re to a place where we can’t keep putting Humpty Dumpty back together again," she said. "We all have to think differently … It’s ridiculous to keep spending money to put things back the way they were when this might just happen again."

MacDonald has been with Brandon Riverbank Inc. for nearly 15 years, and said she has a close connection to the area. She also said it’s time to come up with a solution.

"Mother Nature always wins but there is always another way," she said.

MacDonald called the Riverbank an "incredible gem" in Brandon. With the rising Assiniboine, maybe it’s time to get rid of the manicured parks, she said.

"Maybe it can’t be all the things that we’ve expected it to be," she said. "We have to change how we view this area and how we want it managed."

The disaster financial assistance program — a federal program administered by the province — does not fund riverbank stabilization and only provides funds to put things back to the way they were.

"We’re not going to plant any more trees right now. It just doesn’t make sense for us," she said.

MacDonald hopes the issue of how to move ahead with the city’s plans for the riverbank become a priority for candidates in this fall’s election.

"Since 2011, really the area didn’t get the attention that it needed," she said. "As far as a city and as far as this greenspace that runs through the heart of our city, we haven’t been putting our best foot forward in this area … I recognize how much devastation there was, but it can’t sit for another three years."

Denise Dyck, a resident of Kasiurak Bay for the past 15 years, said one of the reasons she and her family chose to live in the area was the proximity to the Riverbank Discovery Centre and the various walking trails.

"I used to do the walk all the time over the footbridge with the dogs," she said. "But after they put the new dike up you kind of lost the path area, so now we … re-route it."

Dyck would also bike to work through the paths, but that is no longer accessible. She also had a flower bed at Eleanor Kidd Park.

"It’s kind of sad to see it … disappear," she said.

Dyck said she would like to see at least some of the impacted areas restored, "rather than let it all go amok."

Longtime Brandon resident Earl Glabush said it’s a tough call to say what the city should do in terms of restoring the riverbank.

"If we don’t have another one-in-300-year flood, I’d say sure, no problem, fix everything up," he said. "But … times are changing, climate’s changing, so I really don’t know."

Greenspace is very important for Brandon, Glabush said, but maybe certain areas need to go back to their natural state rather than spending money on fixing certain amenities.

Peter Bordian also lives near the Riverbank Discovery Centre, and bikes through the trails just about every day.

"It’s a beautiful area, so to throw it away now after all this trouble?" he said. "But how do you fix it?"

The diking is a must, Bordian said, and he would like to see the city at least clean up impacted areas.

"I wouldn’t do a whole bunch of work on it, but I would clean it up so it could be used, and plant trees as you see fit," he said. "I’m sure they can find some money somewhere to keep up the parks and that — cut back somewhere else."

» jaustin@brandonsun.com

» Twitter: @jillianaustin

Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition August 30, 2014

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