Fort Smith's shifting riverbank is a concern for many, who worry another major landslide – like the one in 1968 – is inevitable.
The section of town known previously as the "Indian Village" has been stabilized and since replaced by a snowboard park and a memorial area. However, other areas of the bank face “impending failure” according to a 2006 report by AMEC Earth and Environmental.
Now, a climate change-related federal grant is helping officials plan a fix.
The Town of Fort Smith's senior administrative officer, Keith Morrison, says climate change is the reason the riverbank's stability is increasingly fragile – and the next step is clear.
"Regardless of ... why it slides," he said, "we know that if we go and we treat that slope and reduce its angle ... it won't move."
The 1968 landslide's location was given a similar treatment, said Morrison, and has not shifted since.
'We just didn't want to do another study'
The Town successfully applied for federal climate change funds and was awarded $155,000 to complete a slope stabilization study – but what’s different this time, said Morrison, is the study will include a budget and engineering analysis.
"We've got study upon study upon study, we just didn't want to do another study," he told Cabin Radio.
"We wanted to do something more proactive ... and actually come up with a design and a plan, and so that's what this intent is."
The previous studies – Cabin Radio read reports from 2004, 2006, 2008, and 2012 – came to similar conclusions as AMEC did in 2006: areas with an overall slope angle between five and 10 degrees are “generally stable” but, in other areas, ongoing erosion and steeper slopes create only a “marginally stable” bank.
Request for proposals
A request for proposals for this project was just extended by two weeks to November 30.
The Town plans to move quickly and, if it sticks to the schedule it has laid out, a contract will be awarded a little over a week after the deadline.
The successful applicant will be expected to have a design and construction plan – demonstrating a way of stabilizing the bank from the sewage lagoon to the snowboard park, and then from the snowboard park to Park Drive – by the end of March.
Funding and consultations
The Town doesn't have a timeline for when the re-sloping will be completed, as it depends on finding the money to pay for a project expected to ultimately cost millions.
Morrison believes having a design, a cost estimate, and a track record of advancing projects will leave Fort Smith well-positioned to apply for funding.
He stressed the project does not belong just to the Town, in its view, but to the Government of the Northwest Territories too.
"The GNWT has a role here," he said. "This isn't land owned by the Town that we're going to be treating, this is land owned by the GNWT.
"A small portion of the land is owned by the Town, a small portion of the land is owned publicly, but most of it is owned by the commissioner and, as such, the GNWT has to play a role in ensuring the safety of the town and the safety of their lands within town boundaries.
Morrison believes the community will also need to be consulted, as riverbank remediation could mean the loss of much of the town's forested area that borders the riverbank.
To Morrison, while this is a positive for fire abatement and riverbank stabilization, it could mean the loss of a wildlife corridor used by black bears as well as the loss of the town's traditional waterfront landscape.