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.
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.
This message appeared in the program of the High River and District Lions Music Festival in 2013.
Dear Arts Advocates,
We are pleased you have joined us for this year’s High River and District Lions Music Festival. We are so pleased to be surrounded by so many passionate musicians, parents, teachers and advocates. Through an event such as this, it becomes quite obvious the value music has in our society and in our lives.
Thank you to the parents and teachers who advocate for their students so vehemently. Thank you to the students, for refining your craft and sharing it with us, and for inspiring not only those who follow you, but also those who lead you. Thank you to the solid foundation of volunteers who organized this festival and made it happen. Thank you to the Sponsors who put their money where their heart is and by doing so make our Arts community stronger for it. Perhaps most especially, thank you to the members of our audience, the receptors of our musical communication, for being the most basic and necessary form of Arts Advocates.
True profit in Arts and Culture is not measured in dollars, euros or yen. It in fact is immeasurable, although its effects can easily be seen in the eyes of every student, teacher or parent who has been exposed to it. Those who cannot package that experience and sell it have a difficult time understanding what electrifies us. Yet we press on, knowing that intrinsic value is not always meant to be understood, just experienced.
Music itself is temporal. Truly emotive music must be performed and experienced; no digital device can emote and express the way a living and breathing musician and audience member can. With our High River and District Lions Music Festival, we see how that happens in each performance. It is for this reason we work so hard to produce this festival, to continue to see that every year, and be inspired by it.
It should be noted that we are in desperate need of Arts Advocates, who are willing to put their time where their values already reside. Our Board is in need of extra support, as in its current state, our Festival organization is not sustainable, and we so desperately want it to be so to the benefit of our young musicians. As John F. Kennedy said over 50 years ago, “to further the appreciation of culture among all the people, to increase respect for the creative individual, to widen participation by all the processes and fulfillments of art – this is one of the fascinating challenges of these days”. We ask that you seriously consider helping us take this challenge on. We need teachers, parents and supporters, young or old, to take this challenge on. We need you.
Please consider joining us as we seek to provide venue for the inspiration our young musicians offer. Your life, and ours, will be enriched by your efforts, and you will make a real and lasting impact on the lives of our young musicians as well.
Thank you once again for supporting young musicians simply with your presence, and please continue to share with all those around you how rich you truly are because you have music.
It's similar to "liking" your own Facebook status, or laughing at your own joke, when nobody else does.
The High River Times printed in yesterday's paper an article about the Alberta Liberals efforts in touting their new brand, or wordmark, or whatever they wish to call it. It stated that people (all 30 of them that came out to hear about it) were generally pleased with the brand. Had they known how the green logo came about, they would likely change their viewpoint to match that of a number of Alberta Liberal Party insiders.
Jody MacPherson, former Alberta Liberal Party VP of Communications and President, raised the alarm over how grassroots the organization truly was. In the same Executive meeting the logo was endorsed, the decision to not cooperate with other political parties was made, contrary to the wishes of the general membership of the party.
Alex MacDonald, an Alberta Liberal policy wonk, explained to a number of Twitter followers, including blogger Dave Cournoyer that the new brand was not focus-group tested. It was just the brainchild of the Executive, who approved it quickly like a fashion model giddy with a new Versace.
And the President, Gerald McEachern, touts the party's grassroots and transparent nature?
A party whose Executive flouts the wishes of the general membership, and then does a massive rebranding without public consultation sounds neither transparent nor grassroots to me.
And with the backdoor decisions made by the PCs of late, we know that we can't expect transparent, accountable grassroots policy from them.
The Wildrose and the Alberta Party are the only two parties who can truly lay claim to representing average Albertans; the Wildrose from within its party membership, and the Alberta Party through its Big Listens. There are some fundamental differences in how the two groups work, but they both develop their viewpoints from a grassroots base.
If the people of Highwood are to truly value grassroots politics, I hope they seriously consider where examples of grassroots actually exist. Explore the Wildrose and the Alberta Party, and support the party that best represents your views.
And I would be happy to answer questions about the Alberta Party.
The Alberta Party isn't going anywhere, but they do have a lot of work to do.At their Annual General Meeting two weekends ago, it was obvious party members were not only interested in moving forward, but also that it would be best to do so as a political party.
However, in my Highwood constituency, it means absolutely nothing unless the Alberta Party can gain some footing here. And my hope is that it does.
For the first time in a very long time, April saw two parties duke it out in Okotoks and High River. If you look at the history of MLAs in our area, it comes as no surprise that the MLA chosen was one who had the highest likelihood of being easily recognized. John Barlow had little chance of becoming a Minister, but Danielle Smith had a great chance of being the Premier, and an even better chance of being the Leader of the Opposition. Policy had little to do with it.
However, the position that Danielle Smith is in is one of a megaphone. All she can be is a noise-maker, and honestly Rob Anderson and Shayne Saskiw have been doing more of that. Due to the fact that she did not form government, what she says does not go in the Legislature, and the next three years will prove no different.
Eventually, Highwood will realize that their interests are far from being well-represented. They'll look at the Wildrose and say "you're not cutting it". They'll look at the PCs and say "you're not representing us well, either." They'll have to entertain someone new.
They won't entertain anybody who isn't local. Okotokians and High Riverites hate the idea of being represented by anyone outside their area. Nobody else gets how special our area is, from the culture we breed to the increasing economic influence we sway (with both communities experiencing 20+% growth in the past year). Nobody else gets our challenges either, from our water shortages to our changing demographics. Anybody who represents us must know us.
Liberals and NDP have not been able to mount a local representative for a few elections now. The likelihood of them finding someone is slim.
Not true for the Alberta Party. The Alberta Party will not run anywhere it can't find a local candidate. It's part of their charm, as is their "Big Listen" process, where party members are in personal interactions with constituents about the issues that matter to them, and that any Alberta Party MLA is expected to do the same once elected. And I'm pretty certain finding a local candidate will not be hard. The Alberta Party just needs to help Highwood constituents know why they are relevant, and that will take a lot of work. (Writer's note, if you are interested in helping get started on that work, because you believe in the principles of the Alberta Party, let me know!)
Will Highwood entertain the possibility of the Alberta Party? That depends on whether or not they actually consider policy and principle.
Unless the Wildrose does a significant update of their policies in 2013, they run the risk of being the "Danielle Smith and the BoZo Eruptions" show, and soon the people of Highwood will realize that isn't enough.
Unless the PCs start showing they can actually listen to Alberta citizens, no amount of rhetoric will ever convince the Highwood constituency otherwise. They've already been down that path with the unceremonious removal of George Groeneveld as Agriculture Minister. It is a big reason why people started entertaining the idea of Danielle Smith.
So if Highwood residents really begin looking at policy, and the principles that they want their representatives to live by, the Alberta Party will be here waiting. The Alberta Party has lots of work to do, but are not going to shy away from it. That way Highwood gets the representation it deserves.
I laughed when I read an article in the Okotoks Western Wheel, followed by the editorial regarding the release of flood mitigation reports, but I didn't laugh for the reason many may think.I could have laughed because the reports were released 6 years after they should have been, and most of the recommendations have already been completed or at least started, making its release a waste of time.
I could have laughed because Wildrose leader Danielle Smith was among the first to jump on the tardiness of its release, even though she had no involvement in its actual release. I will concede, however, that she made a very valid point in that the report, had it been released 6 years ago, could have made resulting projects eligible for federal funding.
I could have laughed because Municipal Affairs Minister Doug Griffiths, the guy who is supposed to be in charge of this type of report and its release, told reporters that he had no idea it wasn't released. This is worth a solid guffaw, because people from the Highwood constituency, including retired MLA George Groenveld, have been begging for its release for approximately 6 years.
None of these are the reasons I laughed. I laughed because one person who promised during the election to get these documents released was our new MLA Danielle Smith. Smith had no hand in it. Who did get it released? The Okotoks Western Wheel staff. Who was on that staff? John Barlow, Smith's biggest opponent as PC candidate in the last election, and Editor of the newspaper (One could say he made good on his campaign promise to see the report released). Who did the Okotoks Western Wheel's editorial staff blast? The PC government.
When you can't get your Wildrose MLA to do her job representing your consituency, even if she is the leader of the opposition, and you can't get the PC government to get one simple document release right, who do you have left?
Apparently you have the Okotoks Western Wheel. Good job, guys!