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.