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Power of water: Salmon Arm Crushing part of massive effort to restore Coquihalla

Manager Simon Rizzardo working on highway while on evacuation from his own Merritt home
Salmon Arm Crushing manager Simon Rizzardo was among the Merritt residents forced to evacuate their homes after the Coldwater River overflowed its banks and flooded part of the community. (Contributed)

Simon Rizzardo’s evacuation from Merritt was cut short by the immediate need for heavy equipment along the damaged Coquihalla Highway.

Destruction along B.C.’s major road networks caused by torrential rains, flooding and debris slides on Nov. 14 and 15 prompted a call from the provincial government to road/construction companies with heavy equipment that could assist with the immediate goal of, in the words of Transportation Minister Rob Fleming, “clearing, repairing and reopening roads and getting supply chains moving.”

Rizzardo is the manager of Salmon Arm Crushing, one of those companies that’ve been busy working towards that goal.

Despite its name, Salmon Arm Crushing, formerly part of Salmon Arm Ready Mix Ltd., is a division of Emcon Services and is actually based out of Merritt. The company has been bringing in trucks and machinery from as far as Golden and Quesnel to work on the Coquihalla. Other companies from the Interior have been doing the same. Rizzardo said a number of trucks have been carrying needed rock with them.

“They’re trucking rock from Kelowna – as we speak, TNT (Services) is bringing rock over,” said Rizzardo, stressing quarries have also been busy providing needed aggregate. “I think there was like five trucks that I saw when I went to the airport yesterday, coming up and over the Connector hauling rock, and then once they get to Merritt they go to the local quarries.”

Salmon Arm Crushing has been busy in several spots along the Coquihalla, producing rock that’s going into building dikes or redirecting waterways. The company’s also working on things like bridge approaches, including a 100-foot section leading to the deck of a bridge over the Coldwater River that accesses Patchett Road. He said the water level there has been steadily going up and down, adding to the work’s difficulty.

Work being conducted by Salmon Arm Crushing at the Patchett Road access. (Contributed)

“We’ve been trying to redirect the river back into where it was supposed to go underneath the bridge,” said Rizzardo. “We’ve been putting down rock and putting in the culvert and a bunch of other work to try to get it so that it’s safe to pass on the access before that bridge.”

Read more: Aerial video of Coquihalla shows highway destruction, collapse near Hope

Read more: PHOTOS: Ministry of Transportation releases images of damage on highways near Hope

Having travelled the Coquihalla plenty in the past, Rizzardo said the extent of the damage didn’t set in until he was moving machinery across the bridge at Kingsvale, south of Merritt.

“I’m going to drive over this as a lead vehicle and we’re going to be bringing an overweight loader across this thing to get machinery in to go and help, and you go, ‘Is it going to fall into the river as you’re driving across it?’” said Rizzardo.

Asked what he thought needs to change in areas of the Coquihalla affected by the flooding, Rizzardo referred to the bridges and spread footings supporting their ends. He said his father worked for the ministry and told him the footings were not meant to handle the extreme water flow that occurred.

“So the biggest thing is making sure the spread footings have got extra reinforcement underneath them…,” said Rizzardo. “And/or, just make sure… whatever parts of the channel are up against the river are reinforced with huge rock.”

Because of the work he’s doing, Rizzardo has been staying in the Merritt area at his parents’ place. When the Coldwater River overflowed its banks and flooded parts of Merritt, the city issued an evacuation notice. Rizzardo said his home wasn’t damaged but is currently without water. With the evacuation in effect, staffing and accommodation is one of a number of logistical challenges Rizzardo has had to contend with.

“Even just getting our company trucks, you had to have a bracelet issued by the city to show that – you had to have approval to have access to town basically.”

Regarding the flooding in Merritt, Rizzardo said in the past, heavy equipment was used to dredge the riverbed so that during times when the river was high it would stay put. Due to concerns around fish habitat, that hasn’t occurred in several years.

“All that’s changing the way all these floods are happening because now there’s nowhere for the water to stay in the channel.” said Rizzardo, explaining all the debris carried by the flooding has exacerbated this. Add to that everything that was carried off from roads and properties in Merritt.

“I’ve seen fuel tanks, cars, trucks, mobile homes, quads, every kid’s toy in the world, stuffies – you name it, if it was in someone’s backyard, it went down the river… The amount of stuff that got thrown down the river, and then now is going to end up somewhere down in the Fraser Valley or out in the ocean is amazing,” said Rizzardo.

The power of nature and water continues to be impressed upon Rizzardo as his work continues along the Coquihalla.

“During the second event that we had, we were dumping Volkswagen-sized rocks as big as the excavator could put against the wing wall and they were getting washed away,” said Rizzardo. “It’s just amazing the power of the water.”
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Lachlan Labere

About the Author: Lachlan Labere

Editor, Salmon Arm Observer
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