MLA wants no development in flood plain
Foothills: Groeneveld miffed flood mitigation report 'gathering dust'
By: Bruce Campbell
| Posted: Wednesday, Jun 01, 2011 07:48 pm
The MLA representing flood-prone areas in the foothills wants measures taken so Alberta municipalities cannot develop in a flood plain.
Highwood MLA George Groeneveld chaired the committee which started the Alberta Flood Mitigation Report after floods devastated communities in Alberta, including Okotoks and High River, in 2005.
“We recommended that all of Alberta – not just Okotoks and High River – that (municipalities) not be allowed to build on flood plains,” Groeneveld said prior to touring flood-stricken High River on May 27. “We have to stop this nonsense of building on the flood plains.”
Groeneveld and Premier Ed Stelmach were in High River to tour the town of 13,000 people after flooding from the Highwood River caused extensive damage to the community 22km south of Okotoks. Okotoks also suffered from flood damage from the swollen Sheep River, however, no residential homes were affected, which was not the case in High River.
Groeneveld admitted it is difficult for municipalities to say no to developers and to the potential tax dollars from homes built in flood-prone areas.
“It has to be the provincial government who says, ‘enough,’” Groeneveld said. “Then the Province can say to the municipalities: ‘If you want to build there, you are on your own.’”
At present the Town of Okotoks allows no residential development in a floodway. However, in a flood fringe, which would not be as prone to flooding as a floodway, it allows for developers to build as long as it is build to a one-in-100 year flood specifications.
High River has a similar policy.
Call it want you want to; it’s still a flood hazard to Groeneveld.
“To me it is flood plain, fringe or floodway it doesn’t matter,” Groeneveld said. “If the municipalities want to do it, it’s up to them.”
He said even if the municipalities do build to a one-in-100 level, the responsibility in the event of flood damage falls to the municipality.
The Wallaceville area of High River had several homes suffer extensive damage when the Highwood River breached its banks early Friday morning.
Although Wallaceville is in the heart of a flood plain, Groeneveld said the proposal would grandfather existing subdivisions helping communities like Wallaceville because they were built well before the mitigation report was completed.
However, the report was never released to the public.
While the report was started shortly after 2005 flood, it was stopped when then Premier Ralph Klein announced he was stepping down in 2006.
The report was virtually completed except for financial details. Groeneveld said he had a commitment from then Prime Minister Paul Martin, who was in High River after the 2005 flood, for financial assistance.
However, the report was mothballed before the federal government ever had the chance to see the figures.
“The report is gathering dust someplace at this stage of the game and I am a little bitter about that,” Groeneveld said. “There was some real good stuff in there. Municipal Affairs, I guess, have chosen not to dust it off and take a look at it.”
Stelmach said he has seen the report and it has some solid recommendations.
“There were a number of good recommendations in the report that we have to implement and if we don’t we will see this recurring in the province,” Stelmach said. “That means some pretty tough recommendations to be made. I submitted my letter (of resignation) today, so someone else will have to make those decisions.”
Okotoks Mayor Bill Robertson said he would support Groeneveld’s proposal for the Province to lay down rules in regard to developing in flood areas.
“We already have severe restrictions in place here,” said Robertson. “The Alberta-Canada Flood program allows building in the flood fringe as long as you build to the one-in-100 year flood level — that’s about elevating it about a metre and a metre and a half in our Sheep River valley. We don’t allow any constructions in the floodway.”
He said there is one resident who has been adamant about being allowed to build in a floodway.
“It has been a matter of contention for the last six or eight years,” said Robertson. “The problem is if High River or Okotoks wants to put in more severe restrictions, those people who own that land feel the municipalities are picking on them… Let the provincial pick on everybody equally.”
Stelmach said the government will look at its programs to assist the municipalities affected by last weekend’s flooding. The Province announced earlier it would provide $25 million for flood damage from April 1 - April 30. The funds don’t apply to last weekend’s flooding.