BC mayors call on federal government to provide flood and fire recovery funds

BC mayors whose communities were devastated by floods and wildfires last year want the federal government to deliver the billions of dollars in promised funding as soon as possible.

Abbotsford Mayor Henry Braun said he was among 28 mayors and members of regional districts who met with federal and provincial public safety ministers on Monday to ask questions about the delivery of $5 billion in ‘Ottawa.

He said the estimated cost of bringing three levees up to provincial standards following unprecedented flooding on the Sumas Prairie was $2.9 billion, with most of the funding expected to come from the federal government.

“The ball is in their court,” Braun said after meeting with federal Public Safety Minister Bill Blair and his provincial counterpart, Mike Farnworth.

“There was nothing in this meeting that I haven’t already shared with Minister Farnworth and Minister Blair over the past few months,” he said.

In November, the banks of the Nooksack River in Washington state overflowed, flooding the Sumas Prairie in Abbotsford as a record 540 millimeters of rain fell.

“Construction companies are hard to come by, consultants are hard to come by right now because there’s so much damage that’s been done,” Braun said of the repairs or new infrastructure needed, which could take five years. years, based on public comments on four possible options involving a pumping station and dykes.

The preferred option will be presented in about six weeks to the council for a report, which will be sent to higher levels of government, Braun said.

“Hard decisions” for spending priorities

Blair said Monday he saw the urgency to facilitate recovery efforts in various parts of the province and had heard concerns from mayors about the destruction caused by flooding and a wildfire that nearly destroyed the town of Lytton last summer.

He did not provide a timeline for disbursing the money to communities, but said there were some complexities in making decisions about prioritizing the spending of a limited amount of funding that would involve “decisions difficult”.

“That’s why we are working collaboratively to establish an appropriate governance structure that listens to the important views and needs of all levels of government and First Nations,” he said.

“There are engineering studies, environmental assessments and approval processes that need to take place. We’re going to make sure everything is done right, and we need to invest in the things that will have the biggest impact.”

A property destroyed by the Lytton Creek wildfire is seen, as a pyrocumulus cloud, also known as a fire cloud, produced by the same fire rises in the mountains on August 15, 2021. (The Canadian Press/Darryl Dyck)

British Columbia has made a preliminary request of about $4 billion for recovery efforts, he said of the “tremendous amount of work” involved in rebuilding communities like Lytton and Merritt, where many residents are still displaced.

Blair said he met Linda Brown, the mayor of Merritt, about three weeks ago and she introduced him to residents whose homes were swept away.

“One of the things that Mayor Brown has made very clear to me is that there are a lot of people in the town of Merritt, over 200, who are still in difficult interim housing situations. And a lot of people also live with the uncertainty and anxiety of wanting to know when this recovery will take place and how, in the future, their community can be protected against similar events.”

Farnworth said an announcement should be made “in a very, very short time” regarding housing in Merritt.

British Columbia set aside $2.1 billion in its latest budget to fund disaster recovery efforts and future response to threats posed by wildfires, floods and heat waves.

Farnworth and Blair also joined other federal and provincial leaders on Monday for the third meeting since January of a committee on disaster response and climate resilience related to wildfires, floods and a dome. unprecedented heat that killed nearly 600 people in British Columbia last year.

Ken Gillis, chairman of the Thompson-Nicola Regional District Board of Directors, said many mayors who met with public safety ministers hoped they would announce the allocation of long-awaited funds.

“There seems to be a delivery issue,” he said. “That’s what most of the people who spoke today caught their attention. Everyone said, ‘Look, we have to find a way to speed things up, and we can’t operate without that this funding be provided to us.” ‘