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By Greg Gerber
Editor, RV Daily Report
MATTAWA, Ontario — Sid Turcotte RV Park is underwater and floodwaters continue to rise posing a huge problem for the Foster family on opening weekend of the 2019 camping season.
Ian and Brooke Foster, who purchased the campground three years ago, had spent the winter in Florida with their two daughters. On their way back north, they started getting messages that water was rising along the Mattawa River.
The couple wasn’t worried because seasonal campers assured them before that some flooding was normal every year as the snowmelt made its way downstream.
So, by the time they returned home and saw that water was already seeping over the banks, they took steps to mitigate the annual problem.
“We have a big grassy field in the back of the campground that was starting to take in water, so we called our seasonal campers and alerted them to the problem,” Ian explained to RV Daily Report. “They all decided to wait it out.”
A few days later, the Fosters made another call to their seasonal campers after the water rose higher than the family expected.
“At that point, the road into the campground was partially covered, but it would have been possible to pull trailers out,” Ian explained. “Only one seasonal camper decided to retrieve their RV.
“Based on where the seasonal campers are parked, nobody could ever imagine water rising high enough to put those units at risk,” he added.
However, local officials declared a state of emergency the next day after the dam operator, Ontario Power Generation (OPG), announced it would release 2.5 feet through the dam’s gates. The utility gave the town hall 45 minutes notice, so the Fosters had even less time to reach once the upstream dam’s gate’s were opened.
“It was 3 p.m. Tuesday and I watched the water rise three feet in two hours,” Ian explained. “By 10:30 p.m. that night, I was working side-by-side with local firefighters to bag sand, protect our buildings and save tools and equipment from our shop while wading in frigid, waist-deep water.”
The campground already lost its repair shop, check-in building, recreation hall, playground and 14 customer RVs as well as one-third of its campsites.
Last weekend, the road leading into the campground was covered with water, but Ian and his crew lined the road with sandbags and pumped water off the road so that traffic could still get through.
“We are trying to keep the main entrance from being cut off. Our goal is to keep the park open, but it seems to be a losing battle at times,” Ian explained.
A huge portion of the campground’s electrical system is already underwater to the point the campground may not be able to turn it back on at all this summer.
“We supposedly have insurance. We’ve read the coverage and contacted our broker, and it sounds like we do,” Ian said. “But, we haven’t seen an adjuster yet, so we are still in a wait-and-see stage.”
The whole situation is frustrating for the Fosters primarily because they can’t get accurate information from people in the know. Communication has improved in recent days, but it is still not ideal, he explained.
“Every day they tell us the river is going to peak at this height on this day,” Ian explained. “Then, the next day, the water is higher than they told us it would be.”
The Fosters said they could have saved more property and more trailers if officials had been more forthcoming in their estimates.
Rather than moving equipment a few feet higher, only to move it even higher hours later — or stacking sandbags to brace for an expected flood level only to watch water breech the bags — the time could have been spent evacuating more RVs and equipment.
“I think a public inquiry needs to be initiated to find out whether OPG and the Ministry of Natural Resources followed established procedures in the days and weeks leading up to the dam release,” said Ian. “I doubt established policies dictate that community leaders receive only 45 minutes notice before a devastating amount of water is released from the dam.”
With more advanced warning and better accuracy regarding the expected water level, the Fosters could have moved all customer trailers and essential equipment to much safer locations.
Some of the customers’ trailers are covered by insurance, but many aren’t. It angers the couple to know they would have been able to move all of them to safety if they had received accurate information in the first place.
The only updates they received in the early hours of the emergency and in the days leading up to it were often based on third-party information.
“I know the world is an unfair place, but there is something tragically unfair when we had the ability to save trailers,” he added. “But, the actual flood levels weren’t even close to the estimates we were given. The estimates were off by several feet — and the water is still rising.
“We have a diving board that is 10 feet off the water in the summer. Right now, it is submerged,” said Ian. “We were told to expect a 6.5-inch rise in water. Now officials are suggesting we could get another 16 inches.”
Disaster relief funds will be available for the campground and the Foster’s home, which they expect will be flooded by the end of the week. A puddle of water is forming behind the house as water seeps up through the saturated ground.
However, that funding will not be available to seasonal campers because the RVs are not considered their primary residence, even though the people live there full-time six months of the year. As a result, the owners can’t even apply for aid.
The lack of communication is even more frustrating considering the business is one of the largest in the township.
“Sid Turcotte park provides a huge economic benefit to the entire community,” said Ian. “People who come here to camp also spend a lot of money in the local community. They go out to dinner, they buy fishing supplies, the get their hair done, and they buy gas and groceries.
“Our campground is a significant source of income for a number of local businesses,” he added.
Ian said the problem seems to have been exacerbated when a nearby resident was making improvements to his land and created a landslide into the river a few years ago. The resident was fined significantly, but the problem he caused was never fixed.
“The river by our campground flows into the Ottawa River,” he explained. “If you drive 40 miles south of us, the river is bone dry.”
He is hoping that an official investigation will uncover the reasons for the flooding, but that won’t do anything to help the Fosters or their guests get back items that were washed down river.
“Dams are supposed to control the flow of water down a river and prevent flooding,” Ian explained. “So why have dams if officials are going to allow natural bottlenecks like this to exist?”
The campground has 107 RV sites, and one third of them are under water. None of the campground’s water supply is considered potable.
The electrical cables and boxes will need to be replaced, along with much of the sewer system. Most of the campground will need to be redesigned once the water recedes.
“We could be out of business a significant amount of time,” he added. “The whole park will need to be reorganized.
“Having insurance is fantastic,” Ian explained. “But, if the business goes down, then business goes away. People get comfortable doing what they’re doing. So, if we lose a lot of seasonal and weekend campers because they have to go somewhere else, it will be hard to get that business back.”
The Fosters have set up a GoFundMe account to try and raise money to assist their campers. They are also looking for donations of equipment to replace the lost RVs. Once the flooding recedes, the family may need some skilled volunteers to help rebuild the park.
People who wish to offer help to the Foster family can reach them at email@example.com or by calling 705.744.5375.
To contribute to the GoFundMe account, visit www.gofundme.com/sid-turcotte-park-lost-trailer-fundraiser.