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.
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.
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)