• John Jantak

Pincourt urges citizens not to venture onto the Ottawa River


PHOTO BY JOHN JANTAK

A temporary barricade affixed with a yellow Danger sign and warning notice from the Pincourt fire department straddles the narrow boat ramp entrance to the Ottawa River at the intersection of Chemin Duhamel and Avenue Monseigneur-Langlois adjacent to Bellevue Park in Pincourt on January 24. The town is urging motorists and pedestrians to stay off river because the ice cover may be unstable due to the opening of Hydro-Québec dam gates along the St. Lawrence River last week.

The Town of Pincourt is advising motorists and pedestrians to stay off the ice- and snow-covered Ottawa River because of a Hydro-Québec water release initiative at certain dams along the St. Lawrence River that began last Friday, January 19.

A temporary barricade affixed with a yellow ‘Danger’ sign and warning notice from the Pincourt Fire Department straddles the narrow boat ramp entrance to the Ottawa River, the main access point for vehicles located at the intersection of Chemin Duhamel and Avenue Monseigneur-Langlois adjacent to Bellevue Park.

The barricade is meant to inform motorists of the danger and prevent them from driving their vehicles onto the ice during the water release period. Pedestrians are also advised not to walk onto the ice, said Town Manager Michel Perrier.

Potential life-threatening situation

“The water release could be impacting the Ottawa River,” Perrier told The Journal during a telephone interview on Tuesday, January 23. “When the water level rises in the St. Lawrence River, it sometimes reverses the flow of the Ottawa River,” he said.

“There’s a potential danger water levels may rise. This could destabilize the ice and make it dangerous for people who drive or walk on it. We suggest people not go on the ice at all until we get clearance from Hydro-Québec that their operation is over,” Perrier added.

False sense of security

The record-breaking cold snap that occurred before Christmas and lasted into the New Year may have also given some people a false sense of security when venturing onto the river, said Perrier. He noted a large amount of snow fell onto fast-flowing open waters that hadn’t frozen over while other parts of the river only had a thin sheet of ice that became snow-covered before the extreme freeze began.

Instead of freezing solidly, these spots are extremely treacherous because the snowfall acted as an insulator which kept the water surface from developing a thick sheet of ice, said Perrier.

Danger is real

People may mistakenly assume it’s safe to walk on the snow cover or mistake thin ice as being thick. The danger is that anyone can accidentally fall through the snow or ice especially in areas with strong currents, said Perrier.

“It’s a matter of safety. The last thing we want is to get a phone call telling us the ice cover broke and somebody fell into the river or that someone is stranded on a piece of floating ice. This happens too. It mainly happens in spring, but with Hydro-Québec doing this kind of operation at this time of the year, it’s very unusual. We don’t want to take any chances,” said Perrier.

Flood preparations started

The high water level in the Ottawa River which persisted throughout summer and autumn last year has already prompted town officials to begin preparing for a possible repeat of last spring’s unprecedented record flooding near riverfront properties.

Perrier said the high water and above-average snowfall so far throughout southwestern Quebec this winter indicates the potential for another round of flooding along the town’s shoreline. The current snowpack to date doesn’t include any additional precipitation that will likely fall over the region within the next two months, he added.

While it may seem unusual to begin flood preparations so early, Perrier said the town wants to be prepared in advance for another flood-risk scenario that may occur without warning. He credited the town’s prompt early response before the Ottawa River peaked last May for minimizing damage along the shoreline.

PHOTO BY JOHN JANTAK

An unusually large mound of snow from street clearing operations is seen in the Pincourt municipal works yard behind the water filtration plant from Chemin Duhamel on January 24. The significant snowfall accumulation so far this winter has prompted the town to unofficially dub the mound, ‘Mount Pincourt,’ said Town Manager Michel Perrier.

Mount Pincourt

In the meantime, the town’s municipal works department and private contractors have been busy removing the unusually large amount of snow that has fallen since the beginning of December, including the 36 centimetres that fell on January 14.

Some of the snow is trucked to the town’s municipal works yard behind the water filtration plant on Boulevard Cardinal-Léger near chemin Duhamel. The snow pile has become so high this winter the town has unofficially dubbed the mound ‘Mount Pincourt,’ said Perrier.

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