And if we can't slow this cart down, I may have to sell my house.
The cart, of course, is the massive load of mitigations that we all know must be done if High River is to remain in any state.
The horse is the labor required to pull this load properly and in the right direction. That horse (we'll name him "Informed Decision-Making") in this case should be built upon science, study, experience.
But gravity is ramming that cart up that horse's rear.
The gravity of the situation is that there is massive pressure on government and elected officials to do something, anything, to show that High River will still be standing when the next flood season ends.
Gravity is pushing us downhill. If we can't sort out some way of getting this horse back in charge, we're in serious trouble.
Above you see the latest recommendations from Town Council sent to the provincial government asking for money to do it. Your legend: Navy Blue is a berm. Yellow is a reinforced embankment/berm. Cyan is a dike. Fuschia is a dike. Green is a dike. Orange is a dike. White is the Little Bow Canal.
Let's analyze this, shall we?
If you put a wall up that is perpendicular to the flow of water, that water will stop, spread, and go around it if possible. That's the blue line. So if enough water comes up against that blue berm, it will spill around to the north into Riverside where, because there's a yellow berm in the way, it will have nowhere to drain. It will continue to pool up into a new lake, and my home would be in the middle of it.
The second they approve this is the second I put my home up for sale. But I will not be able to sell it, because anyone with half a brain will be able to figure out that I'm trying to sell a 3-season houseboat.
Further, the blue berm doesn't take into account the fact that the Town has been working on a development encircling the northwest corner of town called "Spitzee Crossing". This blue berm will not only pool up into currently existing residential neighbourhoods, but will negate the possibility of developing Spitzee Crossing.
Maybe that's the point, as that development has been in the works for over a decade, and has been stalled at every opportunity. The development, for that matter, has purposely avoided and given a great big buffer-zone to the Highwood River. It's one development that might actually make sense after the flood.
A further problem with this plan is that it is old. It was presented to the Alberta Government 4 years ago based on 10-year-old flood maps, and rejected. It hasn't changed, it is still built on old flood maps.
When we will get the picture? Nothing is the same!!!
The Town of High River and the M.D. of Foothills has sunk multitudes of taxpayer dollars into developing a cutting-edge piece of software that helps them plan flood mitigations. Not only does it map where water goes now and where it would go if the flows increased, it also gives planners the opportunity to say "what would happen if we put a berm here or a bridge there," and see the results.
But this request was not made in consultation with that software. It was made on old defunct maps.
I want to scream "stop being stupid!"
It's not the first time since the flood that knee-jerk reactions have cause harmful impacts. A Bow River guide explained to me today that the Highwood River, where it dumps into the Bow River, was crystal clear for the first half of August. On August 18, that changed, and it was black with mud.
Just days before, upstream about 20 miles, "scalping" of the riverbanks in High River had begun.
Making new berms, making old berms bigger, and making old dikes deeper, have absolutely no impact on flood control. Using old maps to determine solutions to new problems is like trying to install a carburetor on a Chevrolet Volt.
That same river guide pointed something out to me today. The Mississippi is relatively straight. Downstream of Calgary the Bow River is straight. The Sheep River is relatively straight. They were made that way by floods.
In High River, the Highwood River still "snakes" through town. In town limits alone, it turns 20 times. Why hasn't the flood straightened it out?
Because it hasn't been a fast and powerful flood. It certainly got to High River in a hurry, but once there, it was stopped up, and so the flow wasn't fast enough to actually allow the river to cut a straight line. This has to have happened in every flood for decades, or else the river would be straight today.
So what has existed for decades that has stopped that river up? Bridges. The first one; a railroad bridge whose efficacy at blocking the river is enhanced by a road bridge. That bridge causes the water to back up and spill into downtown every time a few trees gets caught on it. The second one; a new bridge on the Tongue Creek extension known to many as the George Groeneveld bridge. While its impact wasn't as significant, it definitely causes some backup when debris hits it. The third one is east of Aldersyde, where Highway 2 goes over the Highwood River. It got heavily backed up by debris, so much so that it spilled back into the east side of High River.
Bridges act as bottlenecks in the first place. When those bottlenecks get plugged, the water pools back, affecting everything upstream.
If there is an immediate solution that will alleviate issues, it is to fix the bridges. In the case of the rail bridge, get rid of it, it's not even in use anymore. The centre-street road bridge, it needs to be a four-lane road anyway, so raise it up and make it longer. The Highway 2 bridge by Aldersyde needs to be raised and widened so that debris cannot get hung up on it as easily.
If you give the water a place to go without bottlenecks, floods are far less likely to be as devastating. If you berm it in and try to "stop" the water from going somewhere, Mother Nature will just laugh at you as she bulldozes your berm with thousands of cubic meters of water.
Now I'm not the most brilliant hydrologist in the world, but even a layman like me can figure out what's going to happen here.
And the horse is starting to get scared.
Good morning. My name is Joel Windsor, and I live in High River. If you will indulge me, I do need your help.
I am writing this for all people who have even the most marginal interest in the Alberta Party. If you already know me personally, you know that I'm a big advocate of the Alberta Party. I have been working hard to bring some awareness to the party, and with some success.
There are many things taking place in the Alberta Party right now you may not be aware of. The most important is the leadership campaign that is currently underway. Another item is our "Modest Ask" fundraising campaign. Finally, it is my heartfelt desire to set up a Constituency Association in the Highwood Constituency so that we may run a candidate against Danielle Smith and anybody the PC, Liberal and NDP put up to run in 2016.
So I need your help. I am asking you to do a few things;
1) Renew or Purchase your $5 membership by September 6 (as that is the deadline to be able to vote for the new leader). You can do so here: http://www.albertaparty.ca/join_the_alberta_party
2) Attend a leadership debate, or if you can't, let me attend one for you. If you can't go to the leadership debate, you can send me in with the tough questions you want to hear answers to. I'd be very happy to ask them for you on your behalf, and report back to you afterward. However, if you can join us instead, you can meet the candidates yourself.
3) Read up on the leadership candidates. Who we elect as our party's Leader will have a massive impact on our success and relevancy in the 2016 election.
You can see Greg Clark's information as follows, and he is also on Social Media;
4) Vote. You can do so by phone, on the Internet (the link will be published later), or by attending the Annual General Meeting. The night before the AGM the party will be hosting a leadership debate, which will be your last chance to ask the leaders how they will drive the party forward. If you are interested in attending, visit http://www.albertaparty.ca/alberta_party_agm_and_leadership_convention to register.
5) Tell me if you would be interested in seeing an Alberta Party Constituency Association in Highwood. Highwood specifically includes High River, Okotoks, Aldersyde, Dewinton, Davisburg, Heritage Pointe, Gladys, spaces between, and other communities on the south side of the Bow River. If you are interested in seeing this movement continue, please drop me a short email. If you're not sure, still drop me an email. Either way, I'd be quite happy to meet with you and answer any questions you have.
Feel free to contact me about any of this. I am a teacher in High River, so if you don't get hold of me right away, I'm likely in session; don't worry, I will always return your call or email. You can call me at (403) 603-0930 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can "Like" our Alberta Party - Highwood Constituency Page or Follow our Twitter feed as well;
If you've made it this far, you might just be willing to forward this message on to anyone else you think may be interested. Please feel free to do so. Let's make some change happen in Alberta.
May the road rise to meet your feet,
We are now passed the cross-roads. It is now over two months since the flood, and less than two months before we have a new Town Council. Very soon, if you haven't already, you'll see the campaigns begin.
Look at what has happened. Basements have been stripped out. Tens of thousands of tonnes of our former lives have been taken to the dump. Infrastructure has been moved, changed, remodelled, and rebuilt. Yes indeed, lots has been done.
However, there are still multitudes who feel like they are being left behind. Landlords, renters, small and mid-sized businesses, and residents who have nothing left and limited coverage are still in limbo.
Yet out of the receding waters comes opportunity. In High River, a building stands empty where a library once stood. An incredible opportunity to rebuild the arts and culture in the town now sits in that empty shell. Schools in town are undergoing slight modifications to better use the space they have. Serious consideration to mitigation efforts is being given, and various roadblocks to getting those completed are being removed.
2 weeks after the flood I saw the "For Sale" signs pop up, and I was worried. Within the past two weeks, many of those "For Sale" signs have been replaced with "Sold" signs, and I am encouraged. My neighbours, two wonderful people I've had the pleasure of sharing a fence with, are moving on, but our new neighbours hale from Calgary, which reminds me that High River, even in it's most significant need, is still a place other people want to live.
Yes indeed, there is opportunity in them waters.
We need clear communication to understand how every action helps our town.
We need decisions to be informed and to fulfill a long-term vision. No more band-aid solutions with short term gains, long-term consequences.
We need to stop doing studies that are already done, and start moving forward.
We need to spend smart. Rather than tear out a road to fix one problem, repave it, and tear it out again months later to fix another that could have been fixed the first time, we need to spend the resources we have in the most efficient way possible.
We need to redevelop all of High River, not just the location of berms. This community is rich in culture, even though there is minimal support for it. The character of our town resides in our Downtown core, and it must be retained. Developments must be smart, forward-looking, and with a 10-year vision, not a re-election vision.
Some people still fear how High River will recover. The answer is "it will". How it recovers is dependent on who leads the recovery. The best parts of democracy start with the right people for the job in the local government.
I've heard time and time again "it won't matter what Council does, because in two years everyone will forget." Do not allow yourselves to forget. Hold Town Council to account. Only then can we have any hope of avoiding June 20, 2013 again.
I implore everyone to really get to know your Town of High River Council candidates. The right people can make this Town a beacon of light in Alberta. The wrong people can cause a flood of problems that we will be managing for decades.
The right people are electable because they will do what's right. The wrong people are electable because they are the loudest.
I believe Richard Murray is one of those "right people". Murray will do what's right. He won't be the loudest, but his background knowledge, his "big picture thinking", and his vision make him the "right person". So while I know he won't be the loudest, I'll be loud for him.
While I've already told you why, I still believe you need to see for yourself, so visit his site at www.voteformurray.ca.
Because I love this town.
Two months after the flood, and as expected, Premier Alison Redford issued a statement on the flood. It had a very positive tone, as you would hope. It also set the stage for the next month, and I hope the message of "we will do what is needed" is indeed what happens. For obvious reasons, I have my reservations.
We have had five large-scale forums. Between those forums, somewhere in the neighbourhood of 20 meetings have taken place. Each of these sessions were held under the term "information". However, as we discovered two weeks ago in High River, the kind of information Albertans need is not available, and the kind of information Ministers, Associate Ministers and other officials are providing is not what is needed.
We need the "informers" to explain less, listen more, and do what's right. We don't need Doug Griffiths to explain the Disaster Recovery Program to us anymore, we know it's many opportunities, and we know its obvious faults. We don't need Rick Fraser to explain to us how life in the Saddlebrook camp is, we know it is needed, and we know it is not a place to live in forever.
What we need are listeners, and movers and shakers.
Many flood victims have felt that their concerns have fallen on deaf ears. They no longer see the Alberta Government as an ally in recovery, because they feel their needs are not being met, and nobody is truly listening to what they need. And because nobody is hearing them, nothing they need gets done. Mike Holmes, host of the TV Series "Make It Right", is the one of the few who seems to get the message, but he is not a Government official.
I've been trying very hard to listen wherever possible. I've taken notes, and gone to more meetings than perhaps I should. I've garnered a great deal of information that has informed some simple, common sense solutions that I know would help Redford meet her promise to rebuild Alberta in a way that actually meets flood victims' needs.
But that is where my efficacy ends. I can listen to the din, but I have no authority to act on any of it.
Insert Alison Redford's August 20, 2013 statement here. In it she suggests that if there are improvements to be made, they will make it. Well, the improvement needed first is a listening ear with the power to do something about it. It is for this reason I submitted this letter to her this morning.
It is my hope that Redford meets with me so I can share with her what I have learned. I am unable to do what is needed, and Redford needs to take this opportunity to lead her province.
It is also my hope that in this meeting she explains less, listens more, and then when we're done meeting, she makes it right.
We've lost focus. We are talking about the wrong things.
Don't get me wrong, the things we are talking about need to be discussed. Raj Sherman is exactly right asking about how contracts are being distributed. Danielle Smith is exactly right to call for a public inquiry. The PCs are right to get started on mapping and mitigations, they just don't know how to do it.
None of this matters to many Albertans right now.
We must focus on the disaster at hand, and get the recovery taken care of. The PCs aren't getting that job done, but they are right to focus on it.
There are still hundreds of people, maybe thousands, who have no idea where their insurance coverage stops and the Disaster Recovery Program starts. This is not specifically a High River problem, even though they dominate the news. There are people in Exshaw, Bragg Creek, Medicine Hat, Black Diamond and Calgary still in limbo waiting for answers from their insurance company. Companies are not necessarily at fault; they are trying to protect their bottom line, and they do so by saying "the Disaster Recovery Program will cover that for you". But the job of the government is to protect their citizens, and they aren't doing it.
There are still hundreds of people who also have no place to live. Again, this is not specifically a High River problem, although most of the people in this boat live there. However, there are those who live in Exshaw, Bragg Creek, Medicine Hat and Black Diamond who, because they weren't in the floodplain but were rather in the flood fringe or no zone at all, are unable to relocate. Some of those people are unable to build on the former site because, as could be expected with flood waters, the ground their home used to be on is now very far downstream. Soil contamination is preventing homeowners from returning.
An exemplar; George Lane Park, a beautiful park and campground in downtown High River and just on the flip side of a berm from the river, was heavily flooded; at least 6 inches of silt covered the land. Today, grass grows through the silt.
However, if you drive through the northeast end of the town, almost 60 days after the flood, no grass grows. Not even a weed.
You cannot rebuild a home where grass won't even grow, and expect families to let their kids play there.
The Town of High River's Downtown Core is nothing but empty shell after empty shell. If small business doesn't come back right away, there won't be a reason to rebuild High River.
Residents across southern Alberta know they need help transferring from insurance coverage to Disaster Recovery Funding, and many also know they need help determining how to live anywhere when they can't rebuild where they are. And all they are hearing from opposition parties is stuff they couldn't care less about ... yet.
So congratulations PCs, you are focusing on the right thing. However, that's where my congratulations stops.
It's in their best interests to do what they refuse to.
Under the leadership of Doug Griffiths (not Alison Redford, she has been woefully silent on everything), we have seen flood victims treated like children under his "father knows best" mentality.
At a meeting in High River, Griffiths' numerous "I know how you feel" statements showed he knows anything but how High Riverites feel.
When the official Disaster Recovery Program email is shown to have an autoresponder that says "we will not respond to your email" and is admonished for it, Griffiths responds with "It was fixed already. Try to keep up". Yes father, I will understand that even though you did wrong, I should not expect an apology, but rather will be scolded like a child.
My favorite Griffiths quote (insert sarcastic tone here): "taxpayers cannot be on the hook just because you're scared." I now understand that being scared precludes me from being a taxpayer, thanks for the education, Mr. Griffiths.
The problem is that when Griffiths sees a gymnasium stuffed to the point of being called an illegal assembly full of people who are trying to tell him his government is not doing enough, he patronizes them instead of coming up with solutions.
The solutions are easy. They are in the best interests of PCs, just to get the mob to be quiet, if not to actually help them.
Fund an ombudsman who will help individuals with their insurance, and once they're insurance is completed, have that same ombudsman guide them into the Disaster Recovery Process. The sooner people get into the DRP system, the less Mr. Griffiths will have to hear gripe from flood victims because, get this, he has actually helped them.
The only reason the government would not do this is because of the fear of the cost of paying these ombudsmen. I suggest spending a comparatively small amount on the salaries of these ombudsmen, as it will almost definitely save the DRP administrative costs, and will streamline the process, making it more cost effective and efficient.
Adjust the Disaster Recovery Program criteria to help those where rebuilding is simply not an option. Griffiths has already explained that each DRP claim will be treated on an individual basis. Why not just tell these people that if rebuilding is not an option, steps will be taken to either make it an option, or to relocate. Then Mr. Griffiths will not have to hear gripe from these flood victims because, get this, he has actually helped them.
The only reason the government won't do this is because they are afraid that once they start relocating even just one resident, they've set a precedent. It's a more dangerous precedent to make residents feel as though they have no choice but to walk away from everything they've worked for. Once you do that, the government is going to need to start increasing funding for homeless shelters, because that's where all these flood victims will end up.
Do whatever it takes to get small and mid-sized businesses back in their buildings. Intervene on rental/landlord disputes for a temporary time, and get the repair process expedited in business-places immediately. Help retail outlets purchase stock right away, they are already passed the point of ordering for Christmas. Do what it takes.
The only reason the government hasn't done this, as Doug Griffiths has explained, is that they are still focused on residents, and they'll get to businesses later. Not good enough. No business means no residents. He of all people should know this.
It has become obvious that fatherly Doug Griffiths will not listen to the children. He can't see the forest for the floodwaters.
It also became obvious long ago that the Associate Ministers in charge of Recovery and Reconstruction are not in the position to make these decisions, being relegated by the father to the back of the room or even further outside the hall, as was the case with Rick Fraser in High River last week.
So where is the leader of our province in all this? Nowhere. She doesn't run this province. Even when she said "we will return all to what it once was", the rest of her caucus isn't following through with it. She is not leading. Such a shame that she isn't even willing to consider what her late mother's neighbours are suggesting. Even her constituents in Calgary-Elbow can't get in touch with her. I wonder if the PCs will be willing to allow a non-leader to allow the caucus to continue to run amok?
I hope she steps up to the plate. She needs to show up to her own party. But she needs to do it now, because we're starting to lose focus on the needs of right now.
"Trust is the only capital a government needs, and it's the one thing they haven't got."
I was told this by an Alberta Party Leadership candidate, and I have found most recently how true this statement is.
Three weeks ago, Rick Fraser, Associate Minister in charge of Recovery and Reconstruction in High River stood on a stage in front of a grandstand of High River residents and expounded the efforts of one Darwin Durnie, crediting him with the organization of multiple logistics during the 2013 Flood in the Town. He was credited for setting up the temporary bus system, the building of massive berms, and many other tasks.
Durnie deserved that praise. He was thanked with an ovation, and Fraser started painting himself as the guy who would give credit where credit was due. It was a refreshing moment.
Fast forward two weeks. The Hamptons and Sunrise residents of High River have been escorted in for a peek, let in, kicked out, let back in and kicked out again. At a meeting originally scheduled with the mayor, they end up listening to Durnie explain what happened.
This is when a video of him explaining their homes were sacrificed was taken. Residents were happy, because this is the guy Fraser stood behind two weeks ago.
Fast forward another week, and Fraser releases a statement saying that contractor's "words do not reflect the Government's views".
Durnie, meet bus.
How is Fraser to be trusted on his word if he can't even stand by it himself?
Then they get Albert Flootman out at a presser to explain how the Hamptons were only barely sacrificed with his "straw versus fire hose" comment.
His comments do not change the fact there was one neighborhood sacrificed for the good of the Town. That's not "the Government's views", but it is a fact.
Interesting how "the Government's views" and reality don't coincide. What was I saying about a government needing Trust as it's only capital?
Health Minister Fred Horne's flip-flop-flip-flop on the opening of the High River Hospital in its entirety doesn't inspire the investment of that capital.
Municipal Affairs Minister Doug Griffiths has an inability to recognize his Disaster Recovery Program doesn't help those in Flood Fringe or those not in any Flood zone who have no choice. His program will actually cost taxpayers more without a relocation option. This is not just in High River but also in Black Diamond, Exshaw and even Calgary. Griffiths pigeon-holed view on what Albertans "need" doesn't inspire the investment in that Trust capital.
The recent opening of $350 million of office space for PC MLAs instead of spending that money on flood mitigation efforts doesn't inspire that investment either.
When voters no longer invest Trust in their government, they don't allow the government the confidence they need to make tough (and sometimes unpopular) decisions in the best interests of Albertans.
Decisions like changing how we collect our revenue from oil producers to make sure we get full value for our resources.
Decisions like building large-scale flood mitigation projects that will directly affect a few farmers, but save billions of dollars in the long run.
Decisions like not allowing development on Crown lands in the foothills, which has removed the ability for that environment to act like the sponge it used to be. This has effectively sped up all river flow, and can be considered a significant cause of the flood.
Decisions like helping out home owners with no choice because they need it and it's the right thing to do.
Unfortunately, the PCs have lost almost all their Trust capital. If Alison Redford truly wanted to give people a reason to reinvest, I've already given her three ways do it.
But what if Redford doesn't work to have us reinvest in the PCs? The Wildrose Party had their own problems with getting a Trust Investment in the last election, but who knows, they may be able to shake that history of in two years.
Perhaps it's time invest elsewhere. The Alberta Party is inviting you to share with them your concerns and ideas. Right now is a perfect time as we are in the middle of a leadership race. We need your input now to put the best ideas forward. We believe we are the best place for you to invest your Trust because we do it all with you in mind.