Crystal Schick/Yukon News A hole is dug and a fire hydrant removed from the Farmer Robert’s parking lot in Whitehorse on Feb. 16. Days earlier, both Waterfront Place and Quartz Road were flooded due to a break in the water line, causing Farmer Robert’s to close for several days. A hole is dug and a fire hydrant removed from the Farmer Robert’s parking lot in Whitehorse on Feb. 16, 2018. Days earlier, both Waterfront Place and Quartz Road were flooded due to a break in the water line, causing Farmer Roberts to close for several days. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

Whitehorse grocery store cleans up after flood

‘We could lose some customers, which we can’t afford’

When Robert Ryan got a call saying his grocery store appeared to be flooding, his mind went immediately to the frost-damaged half-inch pipe he’d recently repaired.

Then he rushed to the store and found “half the city’s water coming out of the ground.”

It was a safe bet, he figured, that it wasn’t the half-inch pipe.

What it was, city workers determined over the next few days, was a fire hydrant with a broken T at its base.

Geoff Quinsey, manager of waste and water for the City of Whitehorse, said the hydrant, installed in 2011, broke down well before the end of its expected 50-year life. Factors contributing to the break may include corrision, uneven frost formation, last summer’s earthquake, or a vehicle backing into the hydrant.

When it burst around 9 p.m. on Feb. 13, it flooded Ryan’s store (Farmer Robert’s) with 10 centimetres of water.

The parking lot of the store, as well as parts of Quartz Road and Waterfront Place were under 60 centimetres of water.

Ryan said it wasn’t too bad to pump water out of the store because the building was designed with a drains in the floor. It was easy enough to mop most of the water up.

His insurance company then brought in contractors to dry the store, but the business still had to shut down for a week.

It re-opened Feb. 21 at 10 a.m., offering two-for-one eggs, and 20 per cent off produce.

“If it had gone on for another two or three weeks we would have been in trouble,” Ryan said. “In all honesty there are slim pickings in this market now since Save-On Foods has watered down the whole market. Life’s pretty tough in the grocery store industry especially for people with a niche market like us.”

He said his main concern was with being closed for an extended period of time. He said the exposure and attention in the press during the ordeal has been interesting, and the store has received plenty of support on its Facebook page.

Still, he said, he knows it doesn’t take long for people to change their habits in the interim, and then get used to that new routine.

“And we could lose some customers, which we can’t afford,” he said.

Ryan said the store has recently cut back its grocery items to make space for fish market Haines Packing Co., as well as a chocolate company and a restaurant slated to move in this March and April, respectively.

Because of that, the business didn’t lose much product. Staff took home produce and neighbours, including Haines Packing and Home Hardware, both offered to sell eggs for Ryan. A lot of them also offered to help clean up, which Ryan said was appreciated, but unnecessary, as the insurance company contractors took care of everything.

At the moment, Ryan said his insurance company said damage appears minimal. There’s some water damage to the tiles inside.

“There is some movement inside the building on the concrete floor but it’s not significant. (The structural engineer) can’t find any major structural damage with the building,” said Ryan.

He said the concrete porch area in front of the building lifted up and needs to be replaced. He said he would guess that will cost $15,000 to $20,000.

He said he doesn’t yet know whether the city will help cover this cost. Litigation isn’t a road he wants to go down, he said.

Either way, the repairs can’t be done immediately. Currently, a temporary walkway has been built over the broken concrete.

Once the ground defrosts, a geotechnical engineer will look at the soil and gravel below the foundation for potential erosion issues, but Ryan thinks it will be ok.

In the meantime, the city is still working to repair and replace the hydrant. Quinsey said crews have been unable to pump the groundwater down far enough to work on the water main.

He said crews ran three pumps on Feb. 17, but there’s more river water pouring into the hole than the pumps can handle. On Feb. 21, the city had rented a larger pump from Industrial Electric in the hopes of getting the water down another 20 centimetres.

That would allow crews to reach the water main.

Contact Amy Kenny at amy.kenny@yukon-news.com

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