Flood Recovery Meetings of Early August Expose Hard Choices

This week (Aug 7-10) there were a number of meetings held by the Flood Recovery Team.

Just as the receding of flood waters reveals the rocks and debris from the disaster these post-flood-data-gathering meetings are exposing the hard choices the city needs to make for its future safety and existence.

First the residents of each affected area got meetings that were closed to everyone but them. The two meetings with North and South Ruckle residents happened at GFSS, the meeting with downtown businesses was in the Gazette office. Where the meting with Johnson Flats’ residents took place I do not know.

In previous meetings there was a sense of unanswered questions and amorphous plans. These new meetings laid out the harsh realities.

In some meetings the people were given options to consider. In the meeting about Downtown there was only one ‘option’.

For those who have options to consider they are facing either a buyout / relocation OR raising their house (if possible).

And it doesn’t sound like they will have individual choice on this: the city is seeking the public’s input to make that choice. They need to choose an option that serves the needs of the community at large as well as reflects the will of majority of those in that area. So if the majority in an area goes for a buyout they will likely all get a buyout . . . and not everyone will be onside with that.

In the North Ruckle meeting  the engineer, Dobson, first showed a slide with all the houses marked with either a Green or red mark. Green meant that house didn’t get flooded and would not need to be raised (if that option was considered). Red meant that house would need to be raised. All the houses but one were Red. But a new dike would need a setback from the river of up to 20 meters in places and that single house would then be either in the way or in the river. So no houses in North Ruckle would escape the ‘choice’ . . . look at the screen grab below to see the tentative location of the dike they are proposing.

And what might that choice be? Well  they held a ‘straw poll’ of the 60+ people in the room with a show of hands of those who wanted a buyout. A large majority of them had their hands in the air . . . I hear that the South Ruckle meeting showed a similar sentiment.

Naturally not everyone wants to leave their place – for many it’s been a good home in a  community they cherish. But in the final decision which will be made by council it will be the will of the majority that will hold sway. And as councilor Thompson alluded to 70 minutes into the Questions part of the public meeting the city has powers they’d rather not use to deal with those who are recalcitrant.

When you hear them talk relocation what they mean is a Buy-out and then relocation to somewhere within the city. That will be a major issue to overcome for our town.

It will require using what available land there may be to create new housing opportunities for these displaced residents to move into. Which means working out how to stimulate construction of housing that isn’t prime because many of those who will be on the relocate list will not be shopping in the prime real estate listings because they won’t be able to afford ‘prime’.

Why? Many of them are ‘retired’ people and wouldn’t likely qualify for a mortgage of any serious size. And while various city councilors are saying that they are suggesting that the buyout’s be done at  fair ‘before the flood’ market value it will be up to people who don’t live here (meaning Victoria) to decide how those buyouts are calculated. So don’t be too surprised if the numbers fall somewhere between the before and after flood valuations. And that will mean those affected won’t be financially able to afford much of anything like they lost.

This affects all of us who live and pay taxes here in Grand Forks. Every tax payer who leaves town or becomes a renter stops being an input on the tax rolls of the city. The major protective works will cost 10’s of millions of dollars. Those will hopefully be revenue neutral with funding support from the province and feds. But the fixed costs of the city, paying for the upkeep of its infrastructure and assets takes money. That money comes from taxes and utility rates. Those might both see a significant drop in numbers of paying customers. That means for those of us left the rates and taxes will go up. And if the fiscal picture gets grim there might be hard choices to make down the line regarding those assets and services the city has and provides.

For Downtown the only option is Protective Works.

Part of that means a Dike, And while the actual location of that Dike hasn’t been decided just yet there is the distinct possibility that a number of dwellings along the river will be either destroyed or become cut-off and unusable. You can see that in the screen grab below. Some of that dike might entail raising the street and that becomes part of the dike.

The other protective work that has been proposed, for downtown, is ground water mitigation. While overland flood has been a relatively infrequent occurrence downtown the same cannot be said for ground water rising and wetting basements and crawl spaces – that happens more often than not come spring time, So they’re finally going to put in a system to try and control that.

In addition they will be working on gates and pumping to keep the storm drain system from becoming a means of ingress of the river flood waters into downtown streets and basements.

The choice of which options will be made relatively quickly – within the next month. The answers are needed to calculate how much money the City will be asking of the Province. You’re going to hear the term ‘Ask’ a number of times in the meeting. Plainly speaking every major project that needs to be done will be cost too much for the City or Regional District to pay for on its own. So each becomes an Ask of a funding body outside the area – the Province or Feds.

On Wednesday they held a public meeting in the auditorium at GFSS and publicly discussed most of what they had shown in the closed meetings. And faced questions. You can watch that below.

I’ve broken the meeting into 3 parts: Introduction, Options and Questions.

 

 

5 thoughts on “Flood Recovery Meetings of Early August Expose Hard Choices

  1. Susan Smith

    is there an advocate for seniors who have no options? I am on vancouver island and my senior parents are in an affected building being expropriated. Everything they have is in their condo and they will not qualify for any new mortgage and sounds like they will not get enough from a potential buyout to re-purchase another property. What are they supposed to do? Where are they supposed to go? Is someone advocating for them and others in their building in the same situation?

    Reply
    1. gftvboss Post author

      I’d like to be able to point at someone or group and say ‘that is who is advocating for your parents’ but I cannot. I can point at various people and organizations who are trying but I can’t say what, if any, success they are having. I know Jennifer Houghton has been trying to get the process moving faster since before the flood and she’s been trying to assemble a self advocacy group to do what you are talking about. You’re not alone in feeling like people are falling through cracks in the recovery effort – there was no plan in place for this before it happened so, as Director Russell pointed out at one meeting, they’re having to figure out a plan as they try and execute it. DFA has spent over $1.7 million here in financial support but a lot of businesses are being left out of the picture and wondering why. I could go on about the failures but that’s not answering your question, is it?
      I know that members of the recovery team are aware of the general issues people such as your parents are facing but whether or not that will translate into action only time will tell.
      The City would prefer that it not lose people, especially tax paying people, as a result of this disaster. They’d like to stimulate affordable housing construction in unused areas of the city . . . but the reality is that there is a lot on their plate and their human resources are limited. It likely doesn’t help that because they are essentially an extension of government they have inherited the same information hoarding habits of government. For example the Hydrology report was competed but the public and media weren’t able to see it – we had to wait for them to dollop out bits of it as results they can tell you about. I would suspect that this same thinking will continue as they explore development ideas and projects because pretty much all city council meetings about things of those nature go in-camera where we cannot see and hear.
      So after all that I can only extend to you the answer I’ve heard others get: you and they have to advocate. You have to keep at the powers that be so they don’t forget about you or assume because they haven’t heard anything that everything is okay. Because they are very busy trying to execute the plans they have been very busy concocting while they try and make this all work out. And busy people can get a blinkered view of what they need to get done shutting out things that don’t immediately concern them.
      I know that’s not what you wanted to hear but it’s the best I can give you at this time.

      Reply
        1. Susan Smith

          I should also add that it is impossible to line up a legal consultation for them since the city has retained all local lawyers for various matters, thus ensuring a conflict of interest for anyone wishing to challenge them legally.

          Reply

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