Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Flood changed face of Brandon parks, facilities

Community meeting place impacted heavily by water and loss of revenue

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Brandon's Dinsdale Park stands inundated by flooding earlier this year that swatted western Manitoba.

JILLIAN AUSTIN / BRANDON SUN FILES Enlarge Image

Brandon's Dinsdale Park stands inundated by flooding earlier this year that swatted western Manitoba.

BRANDON -- The flood of 2014 is being called a "game-changer" for the Riverbank Discovery Centre and surrounding park areas.

Eleanor Kidd Park is still under water, the pedestrian bridge is not accessible and the property around the Discovery Centre continues to shrink due to riverbank erosion.

"We need to re-evaluate what our focus is... what we are actually able to rebuild and what needs to just be remediated," said Lois MacDonald, manager of Brandon Riverbank Inc.

"I think we need to take flood-of-record-type of damage into account going forward, because who knows? Maybe this will never happen again, but twice in three years? It requires... a sober second thought as to how we move forward overall."

An estimated 12,000 to 15,000 trees died after the 2011 flood along the Assiniboine River corridor. The parks and trails were damaged around the Riverbank Discovery Centre. Temporary dikes were built for protection, which disturbed the landscape.

Eleanor Kidd Park has been closed since the 2011 flood. A lot of remediation work was done last year -- removal of dead trees, cleanup and planting new trees.

MacDonald said 1,200 trees and shrubs were planted last year, and now the concern is they may not have survived this year's flood.

"We don't even know what is left from the trees that were planted and the work that was done," she said. "There's just no way to know until the water goes down."

Brandon Riverbank Inc. spent $170,000 last year on the new plants and shrubs through various grants.

"It was a bit of a heartbreaker," MacDonald said. "When we were dealing with a one-in-300-year flood, that was one thing, we had never seen it before and we never thought we would see it again in our lifetime."

The Assiniboine River level reached 2011 levels and above this summer. In addition to Eleanor Kidd, several other parks were under water again, including Dinsdale Park, Queen Elizabeth Park and Optimist Soccer Park.

The Riverbank Discovery Centre experienced a loss of revenue during the 21/2 weeks it was evacuated during this year's flood. It had to cancel all of the facility bookings and were not getting the summer traffic through the souvenir shop, which is typically their busiest time of year.

Another financial loss has been the closure of Eleanor Kidd Park. Prior to 2011, Eleanor Kidd Gardens was a popular venue for weddings. The park would hold 60 to 75 weddings every year -- sometimes two or three per day. The booking cost would range from $75 to $100. The city's Music in the Parks was held there regularly, as well as other outdoor events.

Fundraisers, walks and other community events were often held at the Riverbank Discovery Centre.

"It really was becoming that meeting place and that gathering place for our community," MacDonald said. "Four years later it's hard to... see where we are now and figure out the best way to get back to that community gathering place. Mother Nature has thrown a few curveballs, that's for sure."

The Riverbank's east duck pond is still intact, and MacDonald says a lot of birds and waterfowl use that area. But the west pond is now basically part of the Assiniboine River. In 2011, the river cut out about 100 feet of riverbank.

"We're waiting for the water to go down to see how much of the riverbank and how much of the property right in front of the Discovery Centre we lost, because it just keeps getting eaten away," she said.

Riverbank erosion doesn't fall under disaster financial assistance, so MacDonald is concerned about the future of the property.

"They don't fund it, the city isn't going to fund it and it's a real concern for our organization obviously because we keep losing property and the building gets closer and closer to the river."

As reported in the Brandon Sun in July 2013, the city had a three-year plan for park remediation. Queen Elizabeth Park was slated as a priority for this summer, while Dinsdale Park was to be the focus in 2015.

But now, with the city experiencing more flood damage, that plan is up in the air.

"We had a pretty good remediation plan... but we need to revisit the entire thing," MacDonald said.


-- Brandon Sun

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 14, 2014 A10

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