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December 30, 2013

Devastating flooding tops list of Alberta construction stories this year

CITY OF CALGARY

Flooding in Calgary caused the structural failure of the Bonnybrook Bridge.

The June flooding in Southern Alberta has been selected by the Journal of Commerce as the 2013 Construction Story of the Year for the Wildrose province.

Starting on June 19, torrential rains and flooding caused extensive damage by washing out bridges and roads, initiating mudslides and inundating homes in many communities.

This included flooding in High River, Medicine Hat, Canmore and Calgary.

A state of emergency was declared in 27 communities in Alberta by June 24.

The construction industry in Alberta played a critical role in every phase of the response to this devastating natural disaster, including initial response and rescue, clean up, reconstruction and economic recovery.

Heavy rainfall caused Cougar Creek in Canmore to overflow and flood Trans-Canada Highway 1, which was blocked in both east and westbound directions for several days.

Alberta’s oilsands were affected by the flooding, with temporary pipeline shutdowns declared as a precautionary measure.

Enbridge shut down a small pipeline connected to its Athabasca line on June 22, after a 750-barrel leak was caused by flood-related ground motion.

As a precaution, all other Enbridge pipelines in the area were shut down including the Athabasca and Waupisoo pipelines.

In Calgary, where the majority of Canadian oil and gas companies have their head offices, a state of emergency was declared early in the morning of June 20.

Construction crews implemented flood response plans by deploying sandbags and temporary dams at key locations to protect property and critical infrastructure.

Despite these efforts, the Bow and Elbow Rivers burst their banks and caused widespread damage.

About 100,000 residents in low-lying areas of Calgary were evacuated and forced to leave their homes.

The Alberta government built temporary neighbourhoods and short-term accommodation for people displaced from their homes in Calgary and other communities.

Enmax cut the power to evacuated areas and the downtown core to ensure the safety of the public and first responders.

Building owners were allowed to enter the area to clean-up and conduct building assessments, while safety code officers and construction crews restored power to commercial highrise and residential properties.

The Alberta government approved $1 billion as part of the first phase of emergency recovery and reconstruction funding on June 24.

Power was restored to most of the buildings in downtown Calgary by June 27, which allowed for further inspection and remediation work.

On the same day, Canadian Pacific Railway began to demolish a rail bridge in Calgary, after the structure failed and caused the derailment of a train transporting dangerous goods over the Bow River.

As a result of this incident, Transport Canada increased inspections of all CP bridges in the southern Alberta region that were subject to the extreme weather.

Calgary produced preliminary estimates in July that stated it will cost at least $260 million to restore and repair city-owned flood-damaged infrastructure to its original condition and to prepare for future floods.

The list of damaged buildings and basic infrastructure includes: the Old City Hall, the Municipal Building, the Alberta Trade Centre and other administration ($26.5 million); police building ($31.3 million); public library ($10 million); Calgary Transit facilities ($11.7 million), which include the C-Train line ($8.2 million); Calgary Zoo ($50 million) and the Bonnybrook Wastewater Treatment Plant ($18 million).

TD Bank economists estimated Alberta took a $3 billion to $5 billion hit in damage to capital assets from the floods. The disaster disrupted economic activity in the short term, but the recovery and reconstruction effort is a strong counteracting force to the immediate negative economic impacts.

TD Bank’s 2013 real GDP growth forecast increased to nearly 3.0 per cent compared to an April estimate of 2.5 per cent. The revised estimate for 2014 was increased to between 3.5-3.7 per cent.

According to Statistics Canada, 300,000 employed Albertans, or 13.5 per cent of the total employed population in the province, lost 7.5 million hours of work in the second half of June, due to flooding.

At the same time, 134,000 people, or 6.0 per cent of workers, put in 2.4 million additional hours.

The net effect was a loss of 5.1 million hours of work.

In construction, 7.9 per cent of workers put in 440,000 additional hours in the second half of June, which is the highest among all industries.

However, 13.3 per cent of workers in the industry lost work hours, totaling 787,000 in this period. The Insurance Bureau of Canada reported in September that the insured property damage caused by last June’s southern Alberta floods is estimated to be more than $1.7 billion, which is the costliest natural disaster in Canadian history.

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