Environment
South Slave

Fort Smith still working on way to stabilize Slave River’s banks


Two years ago, Fort Smith received $155,000 in federal climate change funds to complete a slope stabilization study. That study is not yet finished – in fact, it has barely started.

The study is important because some of the Slave River’s banks face “impending failure” according to a 2006 report. Completing a stabilization study will allow the town to apply for funding to fix the problem.

The study is intended to produce a budget and engineering analysis.

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Cabin Radio reached out to all town councillors, the mayor, and senior administrative officer Keith Morrison in October and November of this year regarding the status of the study.

None of the near-dozen people contacted responded, but one councillor did ask for an update in a committee meeting last Tuesday.

Morrison told councillors the study had so far produced some “preliminary designs” that would grade slopes within municipal boundaries to “an angle less susceptible to movement.”

A succession of studies in 2004, 2006, 2008, and 2012 indicated areas with an overall slope angle between five and 10 degrees are “generally stable.” In other areas, ongoing erosion and steeper slopes create only a “marginally stable” bank.

Morrison told council the town hopes to cut from some areas of riverbank to fill areas elsewhere. However, initial findings suggest a lot more fill is required than there is material available.

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“We’re working with a consultant to narrow the vision to more high-risk areas within the community,” he said.

A visit from the consultant to carry out that work was delayed by almost a year and only took place two weeks ago.

“They’ve done a bunch of on-site investigation and we hope to get an update shortly, once they’ve had a chance to process that,” Morrison said.

It’s unclear which consultant was awarded the contract. There was no mention of the study being awarded in the December 2019 town council meeting minutes, nor the January or February 2020 minutes.

The request for proposals closed at the end of November 2019. At the time, Morrison told Cabin Radio the town hoped to have the study done by March 2020.

When that deadline came and went, the town blamed the Government of the Northwest Territories, saying the study was delayed due to land access issues with the territorial government. The GNWT’s Department of Lands said it was “not aware of any issues precluding the Town of Fort Smith from moving forward with the study.”

The riverbank falls within municipal boundaries but contains a mix of private land, town-owned land, and Commissioner’s land administered by the GNWT.

In November 2018, Morrison and deputy mayor Kevin Smith said most of the land in need of stabilization belongs to the GNWT and called on the territorial government for support.

When Cabin Radio asked the Department of Lands about Fort Smith’s suggestion that the GNWT holds responsibility for stabilizing the bank, a spokesperson said the department’s responsibility is to inspect, document, and report on the riverbank’s state.

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