Homeowners in floodway eligible for provincial buyouts
Flood 2013: Minister says residents not being forced out
By: Don Patterson
| Posted: Friday, Aug 23, 2013 12:13 pm
Homeowners in the most flood-prone areas will get full value for their property from the Alberta government if they choose to move to another location.
Under details of flood relocation policies announced in Bragg Creek on Aug. 22, homeowners in floodway areas who agree to relocate will receive the full value of their property, based on their last property tax assessment, from the provincial government.
Those who choose to remain in a floodway will get provincial assistance to rebuild their homes one time, and will not be eligible for additional financial support in the future. The Province will also place a notice on the land title of any property rebuilt in floodways.
Alberta Municipal Affairs Minister Doug Griffiths said the Province is not forcing people to move. Rather, he said the government is giving them a choice to help rebuild their lives, while ensuring taxpayers won’t be on the hook to pay for flood damages in the future.
“We know that floodway development is dangerous,” he said. “Development in these areas puts lives at risk and it is an ongoing risk to taxpayers as well.”
Griffiths said property tax assessments are fair and reflective of market values for homes. He said the buyout option will let people retain the value they built in their homes.
“This is property and equity that people have in the floodway and in order to encourage them to move out, we felt it appropriate that everyone received the fair tax assessed value on their properties,” he said.
The entire program is estimated to cost $175 million if all homeowners eligible for relocation chose to do so.
The Province estimated as many as 250 homes in six different communities will be eligible. There are 102 homes in High River that could qualify, but this does not include homes in the MD of Foothills also in the floodway. There are 36 eligible homes in Bragg Creek, nine in Black Diamond and Turner Valley, 50 in Calgary and 57 in Medicine Hat.
Once properties in floodways are transferred to the provincial government, the homes will either be demolished or removed and the land will be remediated to a natural state.
Eligible homeowners have until Nov. 30 to apply. Anyone in the process of appealing their 2013 property tax assessments will have 30 days to make a decision after the assessment is finalized.
Details of programs for businesses in floodways will be announced at a later date.
Homes in urban and rural areas will be treated the same and Griffiths said agricultural properties will be treated as homes, not businesses. However, he said there may be unique circumstances with some properties to be dealt with as they arise.
High River resident Cam Crawford said the Nov. 30 deadline is unreasonable.
“Surely this government will not rush into a major decision like this until it is safe to do so, otherwise people could get hurt,” said Crawford, who lives in the town’s Beachwood community, which is in the Highwood River floodway.
He said there are still a number of questions the government hasn’t addressed with its announcement, including alternatives to reduce the cost to taxpayers and the cost to demolish homes.
Crawford said the Province should appoint an independent body to determine which homes are in the floodway, who should be compensated and what the fair market value is for each home. The province’s Expropriation Act could be used as a model for this process, he suggested.
High River Coun. Jamie Kinghorn said the announcement is fair and could open opportunities for communities to improve protection against floods.
“It will move them out of the existing areas that they’re in so we can remediate those areas and use them for future flood mitigation,” he said.
However, Kinghorn added he is concerned current flood maps are outdated. He said maps for High River need to be updated because those the Province is using for its program were drawn up in 1992.
He said he is concerned some homes currently not listed as in the floodway could see their status change if flood maps are updated. He questioned whether homeowners will get compensation if the status of their home changes in the future.
“At that point all those homes become valueless because the banks are not going to give mortgages for those homes,” he said.
Kinghorn also questioned the impact the policy could have on High River’s property tax base if as many as 100 homes are demolished. As well, he said there aren’t 100 homes available for families to move into in High River and he questions how many will chose to move back to the town.
“We don’t have property ready for 100 homes… it’s going to be a while before we’re able to build 100 homes,” he said.
Livingstone-Macleod MLA Pat Stier said the announcement gives people in floodways more certainty.
“It’s good to see that they are going forward with some sort of plan for these people who are in the floodways so they can have some sort of figure in front of them if they want to get out of the floodway,” he said.
However, Stier said there are a number of areas where rivers shifted course and the Province needs to update its flood maps to determine what homes are truly in the floodway and which are not.
“Black Diamond, for example, had such huge amounts of erosion, those maps are obviously totally inaccurate,” he said.
Stier said there also needs to be more details about how the policy will apply in rural areas and on agricultural properties in floodways. With agricultural properties that can be as much as 160-acre quarter sections or larger and he said the Province needs to outline just how it will compensate farmers and ranchers who move out of a floodway.