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.
Recently, Minister of Municipal Affairs Ken Hughes announced that, despite former estimates, only 90% of DRP files would be closed at the end of March, 2014. Then he took another step back and said "no wait, not until the end of June, now", which basically means a full year of homelessness for those affected. Not that I'm surprised, he inherited a mess from his predecessor, Doug Griffiths.
However, in order to meet those targets, people who were already told they are going to be covered through the DRP are now being told "nevermind, no money for you."
The best example of this is the first completed DRP file in High River. That file refers to the basement of Richard Murray. On September 23, 2013 he was given approval to go forward with rebuilding his basement in writing. Throughout the next two months, he rebuilt, had inspected, adjusted, continued rebuilding, inspected, and completed his basement all with great collaboration with the DRP office. On November 23, 2013, all paperwork for his claim was considered complete, and he was given every indication that he would be given his funds. He followed all the rules, and worked very closely and collegially with the decision-makers.
On March 11, 2014, Murray got a brief phone call saying that his DRP claim was denied in full. When he asked why, the response was "we have no details for you."
The result is that he will no longer be an Albertan. He will be moving to British Columbia. What's even more telling about this is that he has dedicated decades of his volunteer service to High River, even running for the public service of Town Councillor in the last election. In the end, the Disaster Recovery Program has run this incredibly dedicated community advocate out of town.
Why on Earth, or in Alberta, would the DRP process choose to rip this man's spleen out through his throat like that?
DRP has been changed multiple times since the first files were created. Any file completed before the latest iteration of the DRP process will be referred to a "special review" process. To me, this smacks of duplication; files that were already well-handled are being held back to be looked over one more, two more, seven more times.
If DRP was broken the first time, all those first files will be wrong too, right?
That's not what was broken. The first files completed were the ones done well. Reviewing them added a significantly unnecessary bureaucratic layer. What was broken was the multitude of files that did not get addressed, did not have deadlines met from the government side, and did not get money in a timely fashion to the residents who desperately needed.
If it ain't broke, don't fix it. If it is broke, don't fix the pieces that work.
Hughes stepped back from his commitment to complete the DRP process to only complete 90%. Apparently, even that target is so hard to hit, that files that were stuck in the "special review" process were simply too much to handle.
So they called Richard Murray to say "no money for you", with no further details. The only logical conclusion is that they've done so because those details are "we just don't want to handle your file anymore." It's the only way they'll hit that target.
And considering the political turbidity surrounding the PC Party of Alberta right now, they can't afford to miss another target.
How many other High Riverites are going to get the exact same phone call? All the ones who did get their files started early theoretically have been living in relief. Those who did not are the ones who are most in needed of mental health support. Now that the ones who got their files started early are being told they are under "special review", the DRP program is now forcing even those early-starters into mental health disarray.
Just to meet a target, to save a party, to retain power.
If people can't rebuild their basements, homes and businesses, they can't move back. Therefore, they won't shop in High River. They won't open up shop in High River. They won't work in High River. They won't break bread with each other in High River. They won't play in High River. They certainly will have no vested interest in protecting it and rebuilding it for the future.
With this new revelation, I can confidently say High River is dying. And right now, the easiest and most valid scapegoat is the one thing preventing residents, workers, business owners, and community builders from moving back into town.
The Disaster Recovery Program.
So my call to Ken Hughes is to completely shift his position on the completion of the DRP. Not renewing a contract with LandLink is a good decision, but letting them keep the files they've already got is not going to solve the issue of their involvement. The current position is forcing active files to be rammed through, and if necessary cancelled, with little to no consideration for the people and communities they directly affect.
I am asking that Hughes commit to fully fund every Disaster Recovery Program claim as property owners have been promised. I am asking him to completely remove LandLink from the process with no exceptions. I am asking his office take over any remaining outstanding files where no statement of coverage has been offered to the property owner. I am also asking him to add the consideration of these two questions in the completion of those outstanding files;
Lastly, I’m asking that he resist every urge to shift a deadline or target date again. Flood victims need something stable to work with, and the regular shifting of deadlines and target dates leaves them with complete instability.
Or else I fear for the future of my town.
Good news does abound, and while it took a long time, Richard Murray now has received his DRP payments. However, he has some sage advice for all those who have dealt with DRP, and the advice does not end once you've received your cheque. I recommend reading the article here, as it can not be said better than by the man himself.
I only know I'm a good man because my wife is incredible. Nobody as amazing as her would stick around with a guy like me unless she thought I was worth it. Therefore, I'm worth it.
Which leads me to introduce you to a wonderful lady who will be more in the spotlight in High River than ever before. While my amazing wife was giving birth to our second child (who is now 3 and a half years old), there was one nurse there who was the most incredible support for her throughout the labour. I was extremely humbled, as a father during childbirth should be. My wife took the process like a typical farm girl with all her strength, resolve, and work ethic. Very much "just get it done". And the nurse had such compassion and fed my wife such strength, it was as if she were family, encouraging her all the way. Both women made me realize how little a good man could possibly be without a good woman beside him.
That nurse's name is Lindsay Snodgrass. Wife to High River's new mayor, Craig Snodgrass.
That's how I know our town is going to be okay. Because behind every good man is the support of someone just as amazing (or in my case, someone even better).
Many people know I did not support Craig for Mayor. I was extremely concerned about someone with little experience taking the reigns of our town. Honestly, I'm still concerned about that, but I'm putting those concerns aside, because those concerns are for elections. The concerns we must deal with now are how a new council is going to help us recover and rebuild.
I know that Craig could be great for our town, if given the right support. And if it's one thing I've learned about High Riverites, they are strong and resolute, and can be the best support an individual can hope for. However, you certainly don't want to cross High Riverites, either.
Lindsay is a great woman, and with her I'm confident that Craig is a great guy. However, Craig needs to be a great Mayor. So he needs a great town council, town organizations, and townspeople to stand with him.
Town Council will have to shift from campaigning in opposition to campaigning as a unit. It will take work, but they can do it.
I'm so pleased to have a colleague of mine, Bruce Masterman on council. I'm confident that his passion for High River will mean that not one individual gets left behind. He is a genuinely kind and caring man, and has an amazing "big picture" view. I truly hope he brings the balance to council that it will need right now.
I was very impressed with Cathy Couey's platform, in the fact that she had one. Not only that, her platform had multiple issues covered. I know she's put some thought into a vision for the town. She will carry it forward without a doubt, but as we were able to find with previous councillor Betty Hiebert, a lone woman on the council has challenges ahead. There was no shortage of good, strong female candidates, yet only Couey got in. She's going to have to be even stronger, more informed, and ready to speak the language of the common person to truly help council out.
I honestly know very little about Peter Loran, except for the casual conversations I've had with him during the campaign. I'm truly hopeful that his personality matches his abilities as councillor, because if that is the case, he might just be the peacemaker. More importantly, however, is that the new council's first job will be to deal with the new budget, and this is where we need Loran most. Loran's experience in banking and investments will be crucial, but must be backed up with vision. I didn't hear much about his vision for High River, so if he is lacking in that department, let's hope he can put his investment experience into play using others' vision.
Dragan Brankovich has an eye for engineering, but he's going to need to bring more to the table than just his ability to "speak engineering". If he keeps his eyes on the flood, I'm afraid that little else will move forward. He has shown that he might actually have a vision for things like the arts, culture, heritage, and recreation, but it is vague at best. I'm concerned he will get tunnel vision and ignore the long-term needs of the community. Perhaps time will prove me wrong; it would be wonderful to be wrong in this case.
Don Moore has been a very pleasant man for me to work with, and I have enjoyed my interactions with him. He has always had a vision for the community, and that vision has always progressed and changed along with it. He is meticulous in his work, and council could use that attention to detail and experience. My only concern for him is how he will work with this new team. It is my hope that he is ready to be part of a collaborative effort to get this town moving forward, and I'm sure he'll do it.
There is an advantage, and yet a danger, to having Emile Blokland on council. The advantage is that all those promises the Province of Alberta gave the town will still be in the memory of the council. Snodgrass will have Blokland in his court to remind the Province what they promised, and so the whole council will be able to make good on their campaign promise to "hold their feet to the fire." However, having the old mayor in one of the policy-makers chairs might be enough to pause growth in our town. Potential business owners might see it as being regressive, not progressive. I would hope that's not the case, but only Blokland's actions will prove to them otherwise.
If Snodgrass is going to be a successful mayor, he needs the support of every person on council. This does not mean that every idea he presents needs to be accepted unilaterally. Rather, it means that council must work together, something that was lacking a bit last time around.
Every councillor must voice their ideas, and no idea should be ignored. Each idea must be considered on its own merits. Each councillor must work with the best points of each idea to achieve consensus. With consensus, we will truly see a council working together. Snodgrass, who will be our town's main salesperson, will be the face of that unified council, and the town, province, and country will see it.
If at any time a member of council feels as though their ideas were ignored or ridiculed, the unity of council will fail, the town will lose faith, and Snodgrass' support will be gone.
Council is supported by many others as well. The various boards in town such as the Recreation Board, the Sheppard Family Park Board, the Arts and Culture Board, the Library Board, the Heritage Board and more all need to be included in the process. If at any time these boards feel as though their ideas were ignored or ridiculed, their support of council will diminish, and that will filter up all the way to the mayor's chair. This also applies to the many other volunteer organizations such as Minor Hockey, Foothills AIM Society, the many service organizations and many more.
Sounds like a lot, right? That's what High River needs, though. High River needs everyone to pull together, to put their two cents in, to know their two cents are being considered, and only then can they trust that council is truly moving forward.
Then Snodgrass will have the support he needs to be mayor.
Lindsay is the woman behind the man. High River, let's be the town behind the mayor.
Congratulations, Craig! Let me know what I can do to be a support for you.
I can't do a wrap-up to the municipal election without mentioning the man who I chose to stand behind. Richard Murray, it was a pleasure to work with you on this. I'm obviously disappointed that you didn't get in, but I'm very pleased with what you accomplished. The Minister of Culture has seen a vision for Arts and Culture in High River. The Emergency Management Act will be reviewed, and I'm positive you will be a part of making it better and more effective. And I know the new (and experienced) faces on council have been influenced by your passion.
You may not have gotten in, but you made one heck of a difference. I know that I have learned a lot, and am a better man for it. Keep moving forward, sir!
We are now passed the cross-roads. It is now over two months since the flood, and less than two months before we have a new Town Council. Very soon, if you haven't already, you'll see the campaigns begin.
Look at what has happened. Basements have been stripped out. Tens of thousands of tonnes of our former lives have been taken to the dump. Infrastructure has been moved, changed, remodelled, and rebuilt. Yes indeed, lots has been done.
However, there are still multitudes who feel like they are being left behind. Landlords, renters, small and mid-sized businesses, and residents who have nothing left and limited coverage are still in limbo.
Yet out of the receding waters comes opportunity. In High River, a building stands empty where a library once stood. An incredible opportunity to rebuild the arts and culture in the town now sits in that empty shell. Schools in town are undergoing slight modifications to better use the space they have. Serious consideration to mitigation efforts is being given, and various roadblocks to getting those completed are being removed.
2 weeks after the flood I saw the "For Sale" signs pop up, and I was worried. Within the past two weeks, many of those "For Sale" signs have been replaced with "Sold" signs, and I am encouraged. My neighbours, two wonderful people I've had the pleasure of sharing a fence with, are moving on, but our new neighbours hale from Calgary, which reminds me that High River, even in it's most significant need, is still a place other people want to live.
Yes indeed, there is opportunity in them waters.
We need clear communication to understand how every action helps our town.
We need decisions to be informed and to fulfill a long-term vision. No more band-aid solutions with short term gains, long-term consequences.
We need to stop doing studies that are already done, and start moving forward.
We need to spend smart. Rather than tear out a road to fix one problem, repave it, and tear it out again months later to fix another that could have been fixed the first time, we need to spend the resources we have in the most efficient way possible.
We need to redevelop all of High River, not just the location of berms. This community is rich in culture, even though there is minimal support for it. The character of our town resides in our Downtown core, and it must be retained. Developments must be smart, forward-looking, and with a 10-year vision, not a re-election vision.
Some people still fear how High River will recover. The answer is "it will". How it recovers is dependent on who leads the recovery. The best parts of democracy start with the right people for the job in the local government.
I've heard time and time again "it won't matter what Council does, because in two years everyone will forget." Do not allow yourselves to forget. Hold Town Council to account. Only then can we have any hope of avoiding June 20, 2013 again.
I implore everyone to really get to know your Town of High River Council candidates. The right people can make this Town a beacon of light in Alberta. The wrong people can cause a flood of problems that we will be managing for decades.
The right people are electable because they will do what's right. The wrong people are electable because they are the loudest.
I believe Richard Murray is one of those "right people". Murray will do what's right. He won't be the loudest, but his background knowledge, his "big picture thinking", and his vision make him the "right person". So while I know he won't be the loudest, I'll be loud for him.
While I've already told you why, I still believe you need to see for yourself, so visit his site at www.voteformurray.ca.
Because I love this town.