Kai Palkeinen was walking his dog near the Big Eddy Bridge on the Columbia River when he noticed water levels rising fast.
The area is below the Revelstoke dam and water levels can significantly fluctuate depending on the generation of electricity.
During his walk on April 20, Palkeinen noticed a Jetta Volkswagen stuck on the river bed.
“My first notion was that another idiot had driven down because there are no controls or restrictions,” he said.
While the river bed is closed to motorized vehicles, there are no barriers to restrict access and it’s common for cars to drive along the mudflats.
The RCMP said each year they respond to a handful of calls of people getting stuck in their vehicles as the river rises.
Palkeinen realized the car would soon be flooded and the driver potentially in serious trouble. Palkeinen said it appeared the driver had been living in his car under the bridge for months.
He helped bring the driver’s belongings onto shore. To save the car from floating downstream and becoming “river trash”, Palkeinen told the driver to puncture the tires and open the car doors.
By this time, water was lapping onto the windshield.
Just hours earlier, the police had helped free the same Jetta from getting stuck in the sand along the Columbia River. After the tow, the driver told police he would be leaving the area.
However, four hours later the police returned to the same vehicle, stuck in a similar location, but now underwater.
The driver was issued two tickets by the RCMP for trespassing on enclosed land (land controlled by BC Hydro) and disobeying a traffic control (posted signs prohibiting motorized access). The tickets totalled $236.
The next day the Jetta was towed out of the river at the owner’s expense, said the RCMP.
Palkeinen said it’s common for people to camp or sleep in their vehicles by the Columbia River to save money on camping fees.
He said BC Hydro needs to put in concrete barriers to restrict access and that he has contacted the company on numerous occasions to do so.
“It’s insanity what happens under Big Eddy Bridge.”
The area is littered with garbage and human feces, said Palkeinen.
“I’m so tired of this. There’s a massive problem.”
In an emailed response to Black Press Media, BC Hydro said it will be reviewing its policies regarding public safety of Revelstoke Dam operations later this year.
“Given the recent incidents on the Columbia River flats, the assessment of risk and effectiveness of the existing controls in this location will be given particular attention,” said Jen Walker-Larsen, communications.
Mayor Gary Sulz also said he is looking into options for how motorized access could be better controlled in the area.
Palkeinen said it’s time for the community to better protect the Columbia River — one of the largest rivers in North America — as it’s one of the community’s greatest assets.
“I just sank a car in the Columbia River. Something needs to be done,” said Palkeinen.
While motorized use of the Arrow Lakes Reservoir flats is not permitted from the Revelstoke Dam downstream to the Illecillewaet River, it is allowed south of the Illecillewaet to Drimmie Creek at 12-mile.
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