There has been a great deal of good news coming from High River. Our presence has never been more noticeable at the Calgary Stampede, what with our float getting so much coverage and awards, and a chuckwagon with our logo on the side running every night. Shortly a book will be released sharing some of the stories of the flood; stories of immense challenge balanced with unyielding persistence and survival.
If that were only the way it really was. For many High Riverites, the nightmare doesn't ever end.
Recall Richard Murray, given full approval to remediate his basement, only to have that approval swiped away from him after he sunk every last dollar he had into it. With three separate Associate Ministers managing the portfolio, all answering to three different Municipal Affairs Ministers in the past year, it's no wonder the DRP changed multiple times. The process stole his home from him as a result, and now he is no longer a resident of Alberta.
Introducing Jim Morgan, owner of a small business in High River, and a passionate High Riverite. His Facebook and Twitter feeds are a treasure trove of one-liners and insightful knee-slappers mixed with musings about the awesomeness in High River. He is known for his positivity.
Except when the Disaster Recovery Program, the system whose primary purpose was to help people get back to what they once were, offered him $702 to cover the costs of all things lost in his business. They demanded 350 photos, reams of itemized lists of things lost, and even 3 years of business statements, only to tell him that they were covering half of the labour for cleaning his business. Why only half? Because DRP expects insurance to cover the rest. Morgan is being shirked by insurance as well. Again, as I have asked for from the very beginning, where is the event-specific ombudsman that would have negotiated these nebulous lines?
Introducing D and L, High River residents who have not spent a single night at home for 13 months. Their full names are not shared because they don't want anything jeopardizing their work with the DRP. DRP is not offering them even a fraction of the cost to remediate their homes, because they determine whether or not the home is in flood fringe or floodway based on the elevation of their front door - not their walkout basement. Their walkout basement is clearly in floodway (and as Jim Morgan explained in the Facebook post listed above, that should never have been allowed to happen, but because it did, Government now needs to deal with it), yet this tiny piece of fine print the DRP has arbitrarily decided to create is preventing the Sundby's from affording to live at home. They hold out, hoping to move back to the town they love soon.
Interestingly, the government is still using outdated maps for determining where floodplains are. Observe the two maps below. The first was the one I demonstrated shortly after the flood as grotesquely out of date.
The second is what is currently posted by Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development. The changes are only in roadways and town boundaries. When we asked for updated flood maps, we didn't ask for something Google could produce for us; the floodplains were supposed to be updated long ago and they haven't been.
By the way, if you are a Cardston resident or business owner who got flooded this year, do everything possible to get your recovery assistance to ignore flood maps, because your maps are horribly inaccurate as well.
If it's not changing leadership, confusion with insurance, or maps, what other reasons could there be for people to be denied DRP funding? Introducing Chuck Shifflett, High River luthier. As a single example in his saga with DRP, he was told that his heritage home needed to have the foundation completely fixed, and to mitigate against future floods they even raised it two feet. Then DRP chose not to reimburse him for his foresight or care for parts of our heritage. The reason: the house is too old.
If these four people were in the buyout territories known as floodway, they would have cost taxpayers approximately $1.5 million. They aren't looking for buyouts, so really their combined costs are actually half that, if not even lower. Still sounds like a lot, right? So if the government is saving that money by not giving it to the homeless and businessless, where is all this money going?
To golf courses. $18 million that will fix a golf course that will likely be damaged again in the next high rainfall event.
They say it is to help encourage the tourist economy in that area of the province. What they didn't divulge is the link to another Progressive Conservative party sole-sourced contract to PC friends.
But let's look passed that little nugget for a moment and consider the 150 jobs lost when the golf course closed, and the 51,000 rounds of golf Albertans play there each year.
I guess the 120 people still living in Saddlebrook, homeless, and with no certain resolution on their homes is less than 150 jobs.
I guess the many businesses, like Morgan's, that have to close up shop, or the dozen businesses that will be left homeless when their temporary structures get torn down this summer (their original locations are still under heavy construction or in lease agreement disputes) is less than 150 jobs.
I guess rounds of golf are more important than people.
If each damaged home in High River cost $200,000 to remediate (not an unrealistic number), that $18 million would fix 90 homes. So I ask you, 600 rounds of golf, or a place for a family to sleep?
This argument, however, ignores a problem the government is having to deal with; inappropriate developments in inappropriate places. Homes are built in floodplains. Thankfully the local government is trying to deal with this by undeveloping certain areas. It might be wildly unfair to people who purchased those places hoping to stay until their mandatory relocation to Heaven, but hopefully even they understand that those developments are costing taxpayers year after year. However, in saying this, people in these areas, like Jamie Kinghorn, need to be compensated for the loss of their homes due to undevelopment (and any money they unwittingly spent fixing them prior to the undevelopment announcement).
But a golf course with links to the PC party is too important to relegate to undevelopment.
All development in the foothills causes problems in the watershed. In a natural state, the water gets slowed down, spread out in the groundwater, and doesn't gather anywhere near as much in rivers to cause high water events.
When development occurs, it packs down the ground, making it so that water doesn't seep, spread out and slow down. Rather it gathers in gutters, ditches, and eventually rivers, and causes high water events.
But don't you dare suggest undevelopment when it comes to a golf course. High River homeowners can be shunted to ... well, wherever, but PCs need to make sure Albertans get their 36 holes in.
How many of those golfers at this golf course were High Riverites, I wonder.
Please don't fall into the trap of thinking High River is on the road to recovery. It's not. It's not even on a paved secondary highway getting there yet. There are too many golf courses in the way.
The Alberta Party has a plan for the following things that would be of interest particularly to flood victims still dealing with DRP;
This is just a smattering of how the Alberta Party views proper management of the disaster recovery, and all of these measures can still be put into place after the PC government is gone.
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.
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org, 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.