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Esox Dam is operational, but what about Front Street and Idylwild Drive (28 photos)

Although Fort Frances has seen a fair share of flooding over the years, as Rainy Lake reaches new heights, the town is trending in uncharted waters.  

FORT FRANCES – So much has changed in the Fort Frances since the historic 1950 flood, which has resulted in town officials to leave nothing to chance.

Homes and infrastructure that were put in place after the 1950 flood has changed the flood efforts. They are measuring the water levels daily and taking precautions at every new change and strategically planning their next move to keep the water at bay.  

The flooding in Fort Frances looks as if it might get worse before the Rainy Lake begins to settle back into itself.

Town officials say they are taking every precaution to ensure that the Townspeople and infrastructure are safe.   

Although last week, Mayor Caul raised concerns about the water spilling over Esox Dam, the status of the Esox Dam remains in good condition.

Ministry of Northern Development, Mines, Natural Resources and Forestry staff are continuing to monitor water levels at Esox Dam using a remote gauge.

“Ministry staff conduct regular site visits and dam operations are carried out in accordance with the ministry’s dam safety plan.  Ministry staff were at the dam on May 31 and report there is nothing to suggest flooding concerns at this structure presently,” said Michelle Nowak, regional outreach specialist, Ontario Ministry of Northern Development, Mines, Natural Resources.

Although the water level is high, the Esox Dam is fully-functional and in working condition.

Along the waterfront, however, sections of Front Street have been closed since Monday to all vehicles and pedestrians for their safety as Rainy Lake seeps into the road and encroaches onto residents’ property.

The OPP is also on high alert stopping anyone entering the flooded areas to take pictures of the Rainy Lake spilling onto the road and waterfront properties. It is likely because a lot of the town residents haven’t seen an event like this during their lifetime.  

Nevertheless, the public is being reminded that the closed areas are for their protection. The OPP is maintaining the integrity of these areas and will press charges for trespassing, if necessary.   

Boaters on the Rainy Lake and Rainy River should also be cognizant of boat speed and wakes, as this can contribute to wave action and erosion along our shorelines.

With the closure of Front Street, including the walking and bike paths, playgrounds, fitness equipment, the Lookout Tower, and docks, the iconic tugboat the Hallet has been taking out of the water and set aside in fear that the water will sweep it away.  

Sandbagging operations have moved from the Animal Shelter parking lot to the Shevlin Wood Yard. The move brings the emergency operations closer to the critical flooded areas along Front Street in an effort to ensure that sandbags are in place as quickly as possible.

After four hours of sandbagging, Caul and her team took the time to speak with NWONewsWatch about the Town’s most concerning areas.

“The biggest concern right now is our waterfront. Yesterday the water was up to the top of the curb on the far side, so we’ve had to close the waterfront road off. We’ve been sandbagging along that area of erosion happening more and more all the time. We are sandbagging up along there. We have people constantly refilling for us and getting more filled, and we got people from town coming in and getting sandbags for their properties as well,” said Caul.

”Right now, there are three areas of concern that we are watching closely. Travis Rob, manager of operations and facilities explained. “The lower areas of Front Street we are watching closely, and starting to implement measures for erosion and flood control. Idylwild Drive, of course, our lakefront points park area that our second area of concern. We are watching that are very close. There are a lot of property owners doing work in that area protecting their properties. Our third area we are watching is up north by our airport in the Frog Creek area. That system and network are tied into the lake. The water is starting to get very high and starting to threaten properties and other municipal infrastructure.”

As the water slowly creeps towards La Verendrye Hospital, there is no threat of the water reaching the hospital due to the land’s higher elevation: however, the hospital owns a group home that is located in the lower parts of Front Street raising some concerns.  

Ed Cousineau, director of engineering and facility management, explains, “We have other assets down along the riverfront that we are protecting right now. We are taking all the steps to make sure we have enough sandbags in place so that we don’t have to worry about those facilities right now.”

Part of those steps, Cousineau explained, is that they have a contingency group making plans to ensure that the residents of the group home have an alternative accommodation if the flood reaches a point of evacuation.     

On Idylwild Drive, the water has poured over the docks along with the beachfront properties. Fort Frances, La Place Rendez-Vous, outdoor lounge is covered, while a few meters away, Rusty Myers Flying Service has shut down service as staff are sandbagging to keep the waterfront entering the hanger.

Northern Western Outfitters, a small shop on the outskirts of Couchiching First Nations, the hanger is now an island forcing staff to boat to it. The shop itself is now under three feet of water and flooding the entire area.   

Caul is hoping to get more volunteers as soon as possible to help with the sandbagging operation.

The town has extended their hours of operation to Monday-Sunday, 8 a.m. – 8 p.m. All volunteers are required to register with town staff at the command trailer.

Clint Fleury

About the Author: Clint Fleury

Clint Fleury is a web reporter covering Northwestern Ontario and the Superior North regions.
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