Through the Associate Minister Responsible for Regional Recovery and Reconstruction in High River Rick Fraser, I've been pressing for details on what's next for Albertans affected by the flood. Sunday, 38 days after the flood, most answers came.
Yet today, 40 days after the flood, there are still High River residents falling through the cracks in the foundation.
Refer to my letter to Fraser identifying the details Albertans needed. The only question remaining completely outstanding is that of the Disaster Recover Program Loophole. If the Disaster Recovery Program is the foundation upon which we "rebuild Alberta", then residents in the Hamptons of High River (and a few in other areas) are falling through the cracks in that foundation.
Hamptons residents are not in a flood plain or fringe zone. Therefore, according to the Disaster Recovery Program, if they want to be able to get help from the Government in the event of a future flood, they have to floodproof. And let's face it, where the water has gone, the water will go again.
This assumes, of course, that the Hamptons residents CAN stay, and therefore can choose to floodproof or not. It provides nothing for them if they CAN'T stay.
While everyone else was already allowed back in, people in the Hamptons and one area of Sunrise were given an escort into their homes, and 15 minutes maximum to collect their most precious things. Two days later, they were allowed back in.
I was there helping out a friend of mine. The stench of the entire community was sickening. I drive a Honda Fit, a car that can park in those tiny spots that nobody else considers in the parking lot, and there was so much activity I couldn't even drive through. People had obviously been waiting for this moment, and every helper and volunteer they could get was there.
Residents could see it; the reason it took so long to get them home. It is a massive berm that runs along 2nd Avenue. Certainly creating that berm in the middle of Lake Hampton would have been no small feat. But creating that berm meant everyone south of it could have the Lake pumped out, and everyone north of it, including the Hamptons and one area of Sunrise, would be sacrificed. Water out of the south end would be pumped into the backyards, basements, and sewage systems of the Hamptons. While the flood caused the water to be there, the extent of the damage was due to being bermed in; a man-made solution.
For interest's sake, those who made decisions during the emergency phase never admitted to sacrificing the Hamptons. In fact, they never received that admission until last Friday, 37 days after the flood, 34 days after the decision to sacrifice, and only in a very closed-door meeting (which I was invited to, but not allowed in because I was not a resident of a small area known as Hamptons Commons).
Ask almost any resident in the Hamptons and Sunrise, and they'll tell you they understand the need to be sacrificed. They are the few, and the Central and Southeast areas of High River was the many. In fact, some residents will even tell you they were proud to have their homes selected for sacrifice to save the town they love.
Approximately 48-hour of straight labour with that berm looming over them later, Alberta Health Services came around and told people to leave their homes, labelling them "Not Fit for Human Habitation", whether it be for structural or mould problems. Many AHS assessors didn't even come in the front door, unless they were forced to do so by a contractor working on their clients behalf. The vast majority of those who got the NFH designation were never told what to do or what to expect next.
Nobody has told the Hamptons residents why it took so long, although they have figured it out for themselves. Nobody had told them what the next step was, except to sign up for a Disaster Recovery Program whose criteria never applied to them. None of the litany of assessors that have been around are giving any details as to what needs to be done next.
One resident gets frustrated enough to bring in his own structural engineer. The recommendation by that independent engineer was to bulldoze.
Another resident gets frustrated enough to bring in his own mould specialist. This specialist explains that he had seen marijuana grow ops in better shape than this Hamptons house, and they were bulldozed.
A resident of Sunrise, a very well-respected landscaper, explains that to get rid of the soil contamination from sewage, chemicals left in garages that will have spilled into the Lake, and other leaching effects, they may need to strip the entire community down to the clay. One look at the vegetative death in the community that has shown no signs of recovery weeks after Lake Hampton was gone, and its hard to not agree with him.
The residents are getting a pretty good picture of what's going to happen. They can't afford to raise their families or live in a home with structural problems, mould contaminating both the inside and outside, and sewage-ridden soil. They can't afford to stay. There is no choice for them, they must move. And that leaves their neighbours who think they might be able to stay wonder why they'd stay in a community with no community. Finally the phrase "property values" is mentioned. And as the Disaster Recovery Program is announced, they also realize that their situation is exacerbated by the fact the criteria don't even fit them.
Take a peek at these photos. The photography is beautiful, the subject material is spirit-breaking. This is a typical Hamptons home. This is a typical sacrificial lamb.
And the foundation for "rebuilding Alberta", the Disaster Recovery Program, is telling these people they must stay. There is no coverage for stripping the soil to the clay. There is no amount of remediation that could correct both the structures and the mould. Even a rebuild is not an option.
In prances Tervita, fresh off a $45 million contract with the Province of Alberta, here to save the day. Even though they just finished refurbishing the Saddledome in Calgary, they haven't got enough employees to do the job, so they hold a job fair to hire High Riverites. They're ONLY mandate; remediate.
Hamptons residents are told to register with Tervita (after already having had to register with Red Cross, Emergency Operations Centres, the Volunteer Centre, their Insurance Companies, and Alberta Health Services). They're told within 24 hours they'll get a call, and within 48 hours of that an assessor will come out. Nope and nope. 9 days after Tervita was awarded the contract, the Hamptons still looked as if Tervita had only been around for a day. It was still deserted.
It's an eery feeling driving through that neighbourhood that just a week ago had so much activity I couldn't drive my subcompact car through it.
The homeowners expect to see seasoned experts come and assess, and so are surprised when they find the assessors coming are much younger than they. One pair of assessors go in saying it will take them about 90 minutes, and come out 19 minutes later with puffy eyes and shortness of breath.
On Friday, July 26 at 1 PM, Tervita met with some of the Hamptons owners. They were given a sheet of paper with a fill-in-the-blank statement giving the Queen, the Town of High River and Tervita access to their homes and to strip whatever they decided they needed to strip. No letterhead, and no other paperwork indicating what assessments had been done to show work was even required. Residents asked what was going to be stripped. Residents asked what chemicals would be used to deal with mould. Residents asked who the engineer was in charge of the job. No answers came. So the residents didn't sign.
I wouldn't have signed either. It sounds almost like an unsavoury car mechanic trying to convince me that it cost $200 to put a plug in a door panel.
Then the proverbial gun-to-the-head: those residents who said they wouldn't sign were immediately told that if they didn't, the Government wouldn't help them, and they were on their own.
A meeting with Danielle Smith, and she gathers many notes and starts pounding the pavement with insurance providers who are still giving residents the run-around, pressing for the Government to reconsider their stance on the Hamptons in light of the fact they were sacrificed, and keeping track of the charlatan contractors that come around.
Smith, for her part, has done very well by the Hamptons. But even she, at that meeting, admitted there was only so much she could do.
So, indeed, as promised by Tervita, the Hamptons residents are on their own. This is why you saw them at a protest in front of Alison Redford's office in Calgary. They had no problem going, as they have no home to work on, and for many of them their businesses are also on standby due to the flood.
Work through the Governments formula for Disaster Recovery Funding, and you'll find that the average Hamptons home would cost only $10,000 less to rebuild than it would to simply buy them out. And that doesn't even include the soil, loss of property value, and the fact that the community will be, as a colleague of mine stated, a "Swiss Cheese" community. All value, either financial, physical or community-based, is gone in the Hamptons, and the owners know it was because they were sacrificed.
Don't you think that they deserve a bit better than 40 days with only half-measures and no answers?
More follow-up on the questions I posed to Fraser.
On July 18, 2013 there was a Flood Information Night that left many scratching their heads. I posted some questions as a summary of what we needed to know. The status of those questions is as follows;
Flood Maps - A flood mitigation panel has been set up, one that is supposed to solicit the experience of everyday Albertans who go through floods on a regular basis. Contact information for them is outstanding, as is a timeline for when to expect the maps to be updated by.
Insurance Complaints - Detailed procedures for how to manage this have been documented, and Danielle Smith in particular has been working hard on this, but in many cases complaints still arise. It is for this reason, as well as the confusion behind the purpose Tervita has in High River and the Disaster Recover Program, that I have called on Premier Redford for employ an "Event-Specific Ombudsman". With a person in that role, those with continuing challenges of various sorts with their coverage can have those challenges fixed faster, and therefore they can get back home faster.
Disaster Recovery Funding Timeline - Not provided, although details on the formula for coverage has been released.
Mortgages - The Government has asked for all renewal and foreclosure activity to stop for the time being. Also, the Government has started to institute the Floodway Designations on the Land Titles for those who have been affected. This recommendation came from the 2006 Flood Report. The jury is still out as to whether or not that will protect homeowners from issues in the real estate market, or make it harder for them to sell. In many cases, I think protection is what it will achieve.
Floodproofing Standards - The Government, yesterday, released the details every Albertan needs to figure out how to prepare their homes best. They call them the "Minimum Individual Flood Mitigation Measures". I call them Floodproofing Standards. Either way, details on what floodproofing looks like have been announced, and this is good news for everyone.
The floods in late June of 2013 were unlike anything our province has every experienced before. It should come as no surprise that challenges and conflict arise when our livelihoods are at risk. The most recent communication between residents of High River and Heather Mack, Director of Government Relations with the Insurance Bureau of Canada, received from @okotoksNow is a great example of one set of challenges that we must face.
Insurance Providers are expected to be, in the common vernacular, "the good guys". We rely upon our Insurance Provider in times when we need it most, and we expect them to come and "save the day". When this doesn't happen, it is no surprise we leave the interaction very wounded.
It is obvious from this communication and the nature of the forum at the Flood Information Night on July 18, 2013, and many other meetings I’ve had since across Southern Alberta, that there are some very wounded people as a result of confusion with regards to insurance. There is a lot of uncertainty as to what is supposed to be covered, what impact independent adjusters have, why some receive coverage and others don't, what procedures are appropriate for adjusting a claim, and other issues of communication.
The Alberta Party endeavours to focus on common sense solutions, and believes it can govern this way. One such solution that would best serve Albertans is to appoint an independent Event-Specific Ombudsman, paid for through the Disaster Recovery Program, selected by the Superintendent of Insurance in Alberta, and given a strict set of parameters in their job description. Those parameters would include meeting with those who experience confusion with their insurance policies and helping to educate those individuals as to what their policies cover; assisting individuals in claims appeals processes where necessary; educating and advising individuals as to what the next steps should be once the claim process has been completed (whether covered or not) including Disaster Recovery Program applications.
Individuals with insurance questions remain in limbo. Any effort the Alberta Government makes in helping individuals through the insurance process and into the Disaster Recovery Program processes means less limbo for residents. It also means less overall cost on the Disaster Recovery Program; the sooner residents receive the assistance they need, the less cost they will need to incur to return to normal. The cost of employing an Event-Specific Ombudsman would easily be made up in the savings in reconstruction, should that reconstruction happen sooner rather than later when the destruction is even worse. It only makes sense to help this process get completed quickly.
Certainly changes to the Insurance industry is not a common sense solution. While competition within the industry is one reason why there are such varied issues, it is also a way of ensuring the best services are available to Albertans. An insurance company who treats its clients poorly and does not make appropriate coverage affordable will not likely be retained following this flood. What is needed, therefore, is a method of speeding the recovery process.
Flood victims need to get through this recovery process quickly. Their livelihood and Alberta's economy depends upon it. It is easily seen in the best interests of residents, Insurance Providers and the Province to go through these processes quickly and efficiently. The Alberta Government is in the perfect position to make this happen.
As a member of the Alberta Party in the Highwood constituency, I have written this letter to our Premier, the Honourable Alison Redford, asking her to work with the Insurance Industry by funding the appointment of an Event-Specific Ombudsman to effectively complete the insurance claim process for those affected by the flood. This will help the Alberta Government show to Albertans how much they truly value rebuilding Alberta after the flood.
Five days ago I wrote an Open Letter to Rick Fraser, Associate Minister in charge of Recovery and Reconstruction of High River, following the Flood Information Night on July 18, 2013. Today I received a response, and as promised, I am sharing it with as many people as I can.
The response came to me as a message from an entity who identified itself as "2013 Alberta Floods", so the Associate Minister's input is somewhat questionable, however there are some responses here that many may not have heard before. My responses follow theirs.
Thank you for your questions. Please see the answers below.
1) With regards to your questions about disaster recovery funding timeline:
The Government of Alberta is committed to getting initial disaster financial assistance payments to eligible applicants within seven to fourteen days after they apply. We encourage anyone with flood damage to get their application in as soon as possible by going to a registration centre in person. Every application is different. Some applications can be very straightforward and take only a short time to complete, while other applications can be more complex and take weeks or months due to the extent of damage and repairs required. More information on the disaster recovery program and the location of registration centres is available at http://alberta.ca/2013DisasterRecoveryPrograms.cfm
2) Regarding insurance complaints:
If you do not agree with the decision made by your insurance adjuster, there are options in place to review the dispute. You can contact the insurance company’s claim manager to discuss your issue. Most insurance companies also have an internal ombudsman that you can contact for an additional level of review.
Following this, if you still have not reached a resolution, you can contact the General Insurance OmbudService (GIO) at http://www.giocanada.org or toll-free at 1-877-225-0446 for assistance. Another option available is to seek legal counsel. If you are concerned with the conduct of an insurance agent or adjuster you may wish to provide your concerns to the Alberta Insurance Council at 1 800 461 3367. If you are concerned with the conduct of an insurance company, you may contact the office of the Superintendent of Insurance, toll-free in Alberta by first dialing 310-0000, then 780-427-8322.
3) In regards to the disaster recovery program covering legal costs if an insurance company is found to be at fault:
Overland flooding resulting in water overflowing onto dry land and causing damage is not covered by any home insurance policies in Canada. However, disaster recovery programs are in place to provide financial assistance for municipalities and their citizens who incur uninsurable loss and damage as a result of a disastrous event such as overland flooding. Detailed information is available online at http://alberta.ca/2013DisasterRecoveryPrograms.cfm.
4) In regards to the Alberta government, insurance companies and the IBC:
Our Premier met with members of the insurance industry this week and made it clear that all insurers are expected to honour their contracts with Albertans. With this said, it is important for all consumers to be aware of what is in their policy, and what is and is not covered.
Government does not regulate any standard wording for property insurance contracts nor does it regulate the claims handling process of insurance companies. Since government does not regulate these things, the specific wording each insurance company uses in its property insurance policies may be different from the wording used in other companies’ policies. This is why there are differences in property policies and claims handling practices.
Insurance companies price policies in a way that reflects the risks they cover and exclude risks for which they have not priced. How each company determines the cause of an insured loss is up to them, but this can be challenged either through the claims escalation process, or the courts.
It is important for people to review their own policy wording to understand what is covered and what coverage exclusions may exist. We encourage you to contact your broker or insurance company if you require further clarification about your policy. The Insurance Bureau of Canada’s Consumer Information Centre is also a good resource for consumers requiring assistance with their insurance questions. You can visit their website at www.ibc.ca, or they can be contacted directly by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by phone at 1-800-377-6378.
If you do not agree with the decision made by your insurance adjuster, there are options in place to review the dispute. You can contact the insurance company’s claim manager to discuss your issue. Alternatively, the GIO and Alberta Insurance Council provide additional review (see contact information in response 2 above)
5) Regarding mortgage renewals:
To enable all parties affected by the floods to assess the scope and ramifications of this event on their situation, the Minister of Treasury Board and Finance has asked financial institutions to postpone actions to foreclose on loans until the full impact of the flood and any associated relief programs are in place and operating.
While Government does not have the ability to require financial institutions to renegotiate its mortgages or to postpone any foreclosure actions that may arise as a result of the decision not to renew, it is generally in the best interest of the financial institution and its shareholders to defer action until they can make a determination of the best way to maximize its returns in the near and long term.
This is not to say that some renewals won’t be for shorter periods or that no foreclosure actions will be taken. Loans that were high risk prior to the flood and, unlikely to get relief, may still be subject to continued action to prevent further erosion of value.
Neither the financial institution holding the mortgage, the homeowner, nor Albertans generally, will benefit from a wholesale rejection of mortgage renewals in the flood affected areas. As market stability returns, each affected party will then be able to make the best decision for their circumstances.
In the interim, homeowners who have mortgages coming up for renewal in the short term are advised to communicate directly with their mortgage provider to determine what options are available.
6) With regards to your questions about the flood maps and choice for residents in flood fringe zones and providing standards, benchmarks and guidelines:
We fully understand these policies come with extensive considerations and, while we don't have all the answers to all the individual situations faced by Albertans today, we're working as quickly as possible with municipalities to finalize the details. Thank you for your patience.
Response Number 1 - Actually a direct response to my third question. A commitment of 1 - 2 weeks is a great commitment, but I'm worried about them negating that commitment with a caveat that it has to be an easy application for that to happen. Nonetheless, they have provided a commitment many haven't heard yet.
Response Number 2 - A response to a portion of my second question. This provides a step-by-step process for dealing with your insurance when the dealings aren't going well. I'm hopeful this helps out considerably.
Response Number 3 - Another response to a different portion of my second question, although it didn't really answer the question. The short of the long of it, using a lawyer to deal with an insurance company falls outside the realm of the Disaster Relief Programs. In other words, if you get a lawyer to deal with your insurance, you will cover those costs.
Response Number 4 - Another response to the second question again. I'm not entirely certain why these details were provided. It sounds like the Government is quite concerned about homeowners understanding their insurance policies. I suppose if your insurance policy is not currently floating down the Highwood, this would be sage advise.
Response Number 5 - A direct response to my fourth question. I'm glad to hear of the Government's involvement in helping out mortgage holders. I suggest mortgage holders who are having problems with their lenders bring this Government response into the bank with them.
Response Number 6 - A blanket response for my first and fifth questions. There was no commitment to flood map updates. Having just heard yet another group of people who need this information (not just Hamptons Hills residents), I'm more convinced than ever that this commitment must be made, and doubly soon. Further, the lack of attention to the fact that many simply do not have a choice concerns me greatly. It sounds like little to no consideration of the people falling through the gaping holes of the Disaster Relief Program has been made.
Missing Response - To my sixth and final question, there is still no response about what floodproofing standards would look like. For us to know how to mitigate our homes and businesses, we need to know these standards. When Mum is the word, then no work can get done, or any work that does get completed runs the likelihood of having to be redone, and therefore costing the Province to fix it again.
I'm very pleased to see some of the responses that should give some of us a little more direction. However, there is a little more detailed required, so I will continue pressing Associate Minister Rick Fraser for these details. I'm sure he will respond very shortly.
I'll give the Alberta Government credit for being forward thinking. However, they are leaving a lot of Albertans behind in the present while they focus on the future.
This is not unusual, as our province is dealing with chronic symptoms of this approach. There are homeless people being left behind, mentally ill not being cared for, and senior citizens being ignored. As many of us have heard before, the quality of a society is measured by how it treats its most vulnerable. Today's example of vulnerable Albertans being left behind are those still trying to get back into their homes after the 2013 flood, 32 days later.
This past weekend, the Government of Alberta announced a volunteer panel of experts in flood mitigation who would work to come upon solutions for the future. Their intent is to take into account the knowledge, experience, and opinion of everyday Albertans. This is a fantastic concept, and I'll congratulate the Alberta Government on this project, as it is necessary for us to move forward.
However, the Government is missing out on one key thing; flood mitigation does not matter in the slightest in the minds of Albertans who can't even get into their homes as a result of this flood.
I thought the Government already set themselves out a framework of priorities for response to this flood. It seems they forgot them already.
For many Albertans in High River, the Siksika Nation, Exshaw and Calgary (among other places, I'm sure), they are still in the "Stabilization" phase of that framework; some could even argue they are still in the "Response" phase. This panel is only applicable to the "Intermediate Recovery", arguably the "Long Term Recovery" phases.
Yes we need to discuss how to prevent this from happening again to the best of our ability. But not at the expense of those who are waiting to be helped back into their homes right now.
These people need answers to questions of what they should do now. These questions aren't "what should we do in the future to prevent this?" These questions are "what do I need to do to be able to go home?"
A lady at a Flood Information Night in High River called the residents who haven't gotten home yet the "sacrificial lambs". Announcing a flood mitigation panel is not likely to change that viewpoint.
Please share this Open Letter addressed to Rick Fraser. These are the questions we need answers to immediately, before anybody should care about flood mitigation for the future.
Click here to see the original letter and document.
Attention: The Honourable Rick Fraser, Associate Minister of Recovery and Reconstruction for High River
Dear Associate Minister,
I write to offer you the opportunity to directly respond in an open format to questions and concerns expressed by victims of the most recent 2013 Alberta Floods. It is in Albertans' best interests to have open, clear and concise communication about the needs of Albertans, and the Government's efforts to fulfill them. I intend on being a partner with you in the development of this communication.
In particular, the questions and concerns I refer to are many of those expressed at the Flood Information evening in High River on July 18, 2013, a meeting that left the vast majority of those attending dissatisfied with a lack of details. While the five gentlemen at the forum-styled information session answered questions to the best of their ability, they simply were not equipped to provide the details that High River residents were expecting, and that many other Albertans will also be expecting at their own Flood Information nights.
This has led to a great deal of frustration, and the level of discourse between residents and officials is dwindling rapidly as a result. I am hoping that through this letter we can retain a high level of discourse, and yet provide the details Albertans need, want and expect.
I am writing in this open format as many were unable to attend the meeting for a variety of reasons, and should have access to the content of the discussions, just as much as they should have access to the detailed responses. I believe this to be a perfect opportunity for you to connect more directly with the concerns expressed by residents, and therefore improve the level of communication with your open responses.
The format of the questions attached provide synopses of those expressed at the July 18 Information Night, the answers provided that same night, and the remaining detail High River residents in particular are looking for. It is my hope, as a partner in communication, you respond in a similarly open fashion. Should you do so, I would be very happy to share as publicly as possible on your behalf the responses you provide.
It should be noted that none of the questions attached refer to how the flood was managed, although it was a significant theme brought forward by High River residents during that Information Night. That would be a topic that should be assigned to an independent inquiry following the Stabilization phase of the Provincial Recovery Framework publicized earlier today. All questions below apply directly to the current stage of that Framework, the Stabilization phase.
I know you share with me a desire to help Albertans move forward following this flood. I hope you share with me a desire for improved communications, and therefore can work with me as a partner in informing Albertans with the details they need. Albertans have shown great resiliency through working in concert with each other, and I hope that working as partners in communication, we can continue that collaboration to the benefit of all Albertans.
High River Resident
CC: The Honourable Alison Redford, Premier of Alberta
Ms. Danielle Smith, M.L.A. for HighwoodThe Honourable Doug Horner, President of the Treasury Board and Minister of Finance
The Honourable Doug Griffiths, Minister of Municipal Affairs
The Honourable Diana McQueen, Minister of Environment and Sustainable Resource Development
His Worship Emile Blokland, Mayor of the Town of High River
Mr. William Munsey, President of the Alberta Party
Citizens of the Province of Alberta
Question: Regarding Flood Maps - It is obvious, particularly to High River residents, the current flood maps were out-of-date prior to the flood, are now even moreso as a result of changes to the terrain due to the flood, and in some cases inaccurate as residents expressed a history of flooding even though their property is not in any designated flood zone. Residents not only want to know their status regarding potential future Disaster Recovery Funding but also the general safety and flood-mitigative needs of their houses regardless of the occurence of disasters. We recognize that no map can necessarily be perfectly accurate, but the extent to which the inaccuracies exist is causing undue pressure on residents. What is the timeline for the updating of these maps?
Answer provided on July 18, 2013 was inconclusive, however the need for updating the maps was recognized.
Associate Minister, can you please provide a commitment to a timeline for the updating of these maps so Albertans can make informed decisions about the future of their homes?
Question: Regarding Insurance Complaints - One representative at the Flood Information Evening explained that many houses were affected by sewage as high as the second level of their houses due to the pressure the floodwaters placed on the sewage system. Some insurance companies refuse to cover damage at those levels of the houses stating “sewage that high is not possible.” This is simply one example of the many disputes residents are having with their insurance providers. If there is a dispute between a resident and their insurance company, what recourse does the resident have?
Answer provided on July 18, 2013: Hire a lawyer.
Follow-Up Question: If the insurance company is found to be at fault, will the Disaster Recovery Program cover those legal costs?
Answer provided on July 18, 2013: No.
Recommendation provided by a representative from the Insurance Bureau of Canada via a Tele-Town Hall hosted by Danielle Smith, M.L.A. for Highwood: For any grievance, complaint or even minor inconvenience, consumers are asked to call the Insurance Bureau of Canada at 1-800-377-6378.
Associate Minister, can you please commit to collaborating with the Insurance Bureau of Canada to ensure not only are insurance contracts appropriately adhered to, but that consumers are protected from insurance companies who downplay the damage caused by the effects of the flood?
Question: Regarding Disaster Recovery Funding Timeline - Residents are ready to remediate their houses now. These residents, however, have no financial means to procure the professional services to do so. How long will residents need to wait before they have the various resources, including financial, to begin the remediation process?
Answer provided on July 18, 2013 was inconclusive, as responses are likely on a case-by-case basis, and require the presence of assessors prior to allocation of funds.
Associate Minister, in order to begin the remediation process immediately, can you please make funds available to residents immediately, understanding that residents will be responsible for costs over and above what is allocated to them through the Disaster Recovery Program? If not, can you offer another solution that will expediate the process of getting funds to residents so they can remediate their homes sooner?
Question: Regarding Mortgages - Many residents are at the season where they need to renegotiate their mortgages. Some of these residents are uncertain as to the future of their homes, and therefore do not know the next step in the mortgage-renegotiation process. What course of action should these residents take?
Answer provided on July 18, 2013 was inconclusive, as the panel recognized they did not have the skillset to answer the question.
Associate Minister, can you and the Alberta Government advocate on behalf of residents to the various financial institutions to temporarily stay all mortgage activity of those who are eligible for Disaster Recovery Funding so that residents can focus on making the best decisions for themselves and their property which those financial institutions have a stake in? If not, can you ensure that Disaster Recovery Funding will also cover the costs of not renegotiating mortgages in a timely fashion?
Question: Regarding Disaster Recovery Program Loophole - For residents living in Flood Fringe or Overland Water Flow zones (according to current maps) as well as residents who were not in any designated Flood zone, yet were devastated by these most recent floods, many of them are no longer in the physical, mental and/or financial position to remain in the same premises. Some of these homes have been condemned, and therefore residents have no choice available to them but to relocate. According to the summary flowchart provided by the Disaster Recovery Program, residents in these zones are only provided assistance if they chose to remain. For residents who, due to condemned houses, health-related inability or significant financial malady are incapable of choosing to remain and have a need to relocate due to the devastating impacts of this flood, what Disaster Recovery Funding is available to them?
Answer provided on July 18, 2013: None.
Associate Minister, please recognize that the criteria for Disaster Recovery Funding for individuals in Flood Fringe zones assumes residents have a choice. Can you please adjust the criteria to also provide assistance to those residents who, for their own individual circumstances, have no choice remaining, and must relocate?
Question: Regarding Floodproofing Standards - Many residents expected that with an announcement that the Government of Alberta would only provide future disaster funding in the event of another flood if homes were appropriately mitigated, that the announcement would be followed presently by a description of those floodproofing standards. They expected at the July 18, 2013 meeting to be told what those standards are. High River residents are very resourceful and well-experienced in flood recovery, so knowing those standards would have undoubtedly assisted residents in speeding up the recovery process. What are those floodproofing standards?
Answer provided on July 18, 2013 was that those standards are as of yet unidentified, but are likely to differ on a case-by-case basis.
Associate Minister, standards are benchmarks that all Albertans can be expected to adhere to, should not differ on a case-by-case basis, and through their very existence can help speed up the recovery process. Can you commit to providing at the very least guidelines, or preferably a document detailing floodproofing standards that can be applied across the province, and when can Albertans expect those documents to be made publicly available?
Click here to see the original letter and document.
Doug Griffiths made an announcement that put some people in a tizzy this past week. Some claimed it was insensitive to High Riverites, although I disagree. It's the detail this announcement was missing.
Monday night, people came in droves to the High River Expo at Highwood High School. They left more confused than ever.
I went with one question in mind, the one question that must be answered before anything can be detailed with this new flood-disaster funding policy. How long should we expect to wait until we have updated flood maps that take into account the changes in terrain from this most recent flood?
I first went to the Disaster Recovery Plan booth. They told me to talk to the people at the Environment and Sustainable Resource Development (ESRD) booth. I went there, and asked the same question.
They told me there was no need.
The floodway maps they are currently distributing, and the floodway maps that are on their oh-so-special app on their website are based on regular flood occurences, not the once-a-century floods, and so they should remain accurate.
I call Taurus Excrement.
I asked what would prompt them to start the process of remapping. They said they'd have to be there physically to reassess and see a potential need. I told them I'd save them that step and explain the need to them right now.
Examine the below diagram from ESRD's floodplains map. Running north and south down the center, near the bottom, is a line that seems to divide light red from yellow, meaning it divides flood fringe from no-risk land.
That line is a railroad track berm. Or at least it was.
Observe what remains of that berm.
The representative from the ESRD seemed to understand there may be a need, although somewhat grudgingly. I then asked what the next step would be.
She explained ESRD would need to consult with all the stakeholders, including the railroad company, the town and the province, to see if there was any intent to replace and repair that berm. They'd also have to wait until the municipality asked them to upgrade the flood maps.
And then ...?
And then they'll start the process of updating the maps.
A process before the request process to get a process started. In my mind, not acceptable.
Canadian Pacific Railway owns that track, and hasn't used it for at least 4 years. I'd be surprised if they have any interest in rebuilding it. I won't speak for the town, but I would suggest that they will take quite some time before they start discussing rezoning and building berms, as they have a bit more on their plate right now.
So I translate this to mean months of bureaucracy.
I know this to be the norm for our PC government, but I was hoping for a more common sense approach to our need during this abnormal time.
Here's the deal: if people in Alberta do not know where those flood plains
actually are (not just where some out-of-date map says they are), how can we protect our homes? Nowhere in Alberta is this more frustrating on such a mass scale as in High River.
This isn't just about whether or not we will get Disaster Relief in the future. This is about whether or not our homes and businesses are at risk in the first place. Nobody will build in High River if they can't even be assured of where the floodplains are.
We need to have these maps updated not now, not months from now, but on Sunday, the same day Minister Griffiths made his policy announcement.
Thankfully, Rick Fraser, Associate Minister for the Recovery of High River, was two booths away. So I pulled him aside and asked him about this process before the request process to get the process started. After about 5 minutes of listening to a few talking points, I pulled out my tablet showing him the map above, and he finally clued in. His response; "they will get going on this if I have anything to say about it."
Alright, one small step for one small man, I thought. But just in case, I went to Danielle Smith, my MLA, who was also right beside us. I explained the exact same thing to her.
She shared my sentiment. She said she had heard similar concerns before, although she had not yet heard what ESRD's triple-stage process was like. I told her I spoke to Mr. Fraser. She said "let's wait a couple of days, and be optimistic."
These days I find exercising patience for the sake of optimism much more challenging, and somewhat unnecessary, but I took Smith's suggestion. It is now two days later.
I asked @RickFraserMLA if there was any news, and did not involve Smith because I knew she was in Red Deer for the day. The Government of Alberta's twitter feed @YourAlberta responded instead, telling me that nothing has been started except to make the floodmaps mobile-device accessible. Apparently that will be ready next week.
Priority has been set on making sure I can read this on my cellphone, not whether or not what I'm reading is even accurate or applicable.
So finally, I am pulling my Alberta Party hat out. I have worked hard to avoid doing it, but I cannot any longer, knowing that what we need is not what either the PC government is willing to work for, nor is Danielle Smith going to do as she waits in optimism.
Wearing my Alberta Party hat in the constituency of Highwood, I will work to make sure floodplain maps are updated immediately. You don't need to elect me to do this. I will do it because I know it is needed. We'll start with the Highwood constituency, and then I will continue this work starting at all communities close to the mountains and working our way downstream of each river system in Alberta. We will endeavour to skip the three-stages of process-before-the-request-process-to-start-the-process and get this going right away because we need it in our hands already. If we can't do that, we'll pressure the process to get done faster.
Don't worry, this won't be the only thing the Alberta Party in Highwood works on, as there is a great deal more that needs our common sense input. If you would like to help in this, feel free to join me. Send me a message at email@example.com, and we'll get this work done so Albertans know what they need to know.
The Alberta Party will make common sense work for you.
Numerous posts on various sites I have seen, including Facebook, news article comments, and many more, have given credit for the creation of unofficially named Lake Hampton to the new Tongue Creek Road extension, known to many as the George Groeneveld Bridge, or 498th Avenue. At first blush, that would make sense, given the map below.
However, people passing this judgement seem to have forgotten that this map is woefully incomplete. It's missing the road that goes past the cemetery (5th Street) and doesn't even show Tongue Creek Road, nor the new overpass.
It also doesn't show how far north Lake Hampton actually goes.
Observe an updated map of High River, with some annotations that I will explain. I recommend clicking on it to read the annotations.
The Highwood normally flows underneath Tongue Creek Road at the new George Groeneveld Bridge. The floodplain goes right up to those green lines, which is where 5th Avenue used to be before the overpass was built. For every flood previous to this one, the old 5th Street berm prevented the water from coming back. During the first day of the flood, this was still true. However, once it got north past Tongue Creek Road, the water levels in this year's flood were beyond anything we'd ever seen, and the banks were over-run.
The water spilled out into farmer's fields north of the Tongue Creek Road, and continued filling up, almost all the way out to Cargill. The only thing preventing it from flowing further east was Highway 2. Tongue Creek Road dips a bit before rising to the new overpass, and that is where the water spilled back. This is what the media meant when they said "the river had turned back on itself".
Between the new 5th Street and the new 20th Street Crossover, the land is low, and dips ultimately to just north of the Hamptons. When the water came over Tongue Creek Road, the terrain was already perfectly designed to become a lake. No developers had worked there yet, and so no blame can be laid on them for making the land too low. This low-lying land was always there. It was just that there had never been that much water before.
Observe the map below, circa 2002. Holy Spirit Academy, the school that remained underwater for almost a month in this year's flood, hadn't even been built yet. Neither had the Tongue Creek extension nor the new overpass.
5th Street was always there. The river always ran north. 498th Avenue was always there. Had we not built the extension to Tongue Creek Road, the area we now know as the Hamptons would still have become a lake. All those naysayers suggesting the new road caused all this are dead wrong.
Could we have seen this coming? Considering Lake Hampton eventually covered approximately 15 square miles of land (approximately the same size as Sylvan Lake), I'd say no.
Did those berms affect the flow, and make the creation of Lake Hampton more likely? Certainly a possibility. Where that berm ended is where the breach of the banks occurred that ended up resulting in half of a town sitting underwater for 3 weeks. I can't imagine that a berm is the best solution on its own anymore.
So what do we do instead of berms? I'll save that for the next post.
(For interest's sake, now that the Lake has been pumped out, some other lines of land have reappeared, particularly Tongue Creek Road, 20th Street, and a fenceline that once separated the Town of High River from the M.D. of the Foothills, somewhat north of the Hamptons. These lines of land have now effectively cut Lake Hampton into 4 bodies of water, which I have labelled Lake Hampton 1, 2, 3 and 4 in my annotated map)
A recent column in the Calgary Sun suggested that Premier Alison Redford's announcement of policy on disaster relief funding for future floods was poorly timed, and not sensitive to the needs of High Riverites. "The premier truly is politically tone deaf," charges the Editorial.
Pot, meet kettle.
Imagine a scenario when you have been unable to enter your flood-ravaged home for 3 weeks, and when you finally do, nothing in your house is salvageable because of the high quantities of mould. You start cleaning up, and very shortly are asking "what for?" This is what thousands of High Riverites are doing as I type this.
Now imagine this scenario with no announcements from the province or municipal governments explaining what's next. Some people move away, because they can't handle the recovery. If they don't get disaster relief funding, they declare bankrupcy and hope for the best in the future. Others stay, use whatever funding they can get to return the house to liveable state, but will never be able to sell it because no government is saying whether or not they will be covered for future events. Then, 3 years later, after another political election, the government is in the "safe" zone and can make the controversially timed announcement that they will not get covered if they didn't move.
If that were to actually happen (which thankfully it won't), I would join the riots.
High Riverites are stronger people than the Calgary Sun gives us credit for. We don't need our Premier to stroke our hair and say "there there, there there." We need our Premier to say "don't build there again, and here's some relief funding to help you make that decision."
Good political decisions are those that are made in the best interests of all Albertans, regardless of the sensitivity of the timing.
Now this policy is a good one for all Albertans, not just High Riverites. Not making the announcement would have been far less sensitive to our needs.
That being said, the announcement is devoid of detail. We could look at the current Alberta Environment Flood Mapping application, but it is now badly out of date. Compare the two pictures below.
The first is Alberta Environment's Flood Mapping app. The second is a map of the affected areas in the Town of High River's re-entry plan. Notice how Alberta Environment said there was no risk of floods in the yellow, and yet that is where all the standing water is?
People who were in those yellow areas, yet still flooded out anyway, don't even know if they are in a flood plain or flood fringe zone. There was never any indication that they were in danger, so that's why they built there. Now what?
All levels of government need to double ... no, quintuple their efforts to get those flood mapping applications updated with current data, so those people who never expected flooding was a possibility will know whether or not that is still the case.
Then, when it comes to mitigation, we must make decisions that make sense.
The Province says "don't build in a flood plain". Assuming we know where that flood plain is, I'm sure every High Riverite will say "thanks, I hadn't figured that out yet."
But then the Province says "if you are in the flood fringe, fortify against floods." Then I see what Alberta Environment's idea of fortification looks like.
You don't need to be an engineer to see the problem here. If every municipality allowed the building of many flood proofed areas, floodway and flood fringe levels would rise, the flood hazard areas would change, and we'd be back to square one.
Simply flood proofing is obviously not the best course of action if it is the only course of action. There must be more. Building berms or dykes aren't the best options either for the same reason. The reason water levels rise is because they have nowhere else to go. You build a berm to prevent the water from flowing, it goes somewhere else. You build a dyke to divert the water, once it arrives at its destination, it still needs somewhere to go.
I'm no expert at this. But this much I can figure out for myself. There are experts elsewhere in the world that can help us out with this. Ask those who manage the mighty Mississippi. Ask those in the Netherlands who deal with floods regularly. Those along the Nile use floods to their advantage. Somebody out there can help us figure out how to manage our ever-changing climate, and the likelihood that this flood can happen again.
I'm glad for the announcement of flood relief policies. It tells us what to expect, and now we can plan for it. While the PCs missed a lot prior to the flood (namely sitting on a flood mitigation report), they at least got that part right. Now the real test is if they'll follow up on that policy and give us the details.
We need those details now. We need to demand it. If we have to wait six years for them, we won't be asking the PCs for it, because they won't have been elected again. We need that action, and we need it now.
And we need the patronization of High Riverites to stop. We don't need sensitivity. We need action.