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Flood costs in millions and still rising

The costs of last year’s floods in the Pemberton and Squamish Valley are still being calculated a year later.

The highest price was paid by the four people who lost their lives when a bridge was washed out by over 300,000 tonnes of debris and the flood-swollen waters of the Rutherford Creek.

The destruction of that same bridge cut off the village of Pemberton from supplies and help and the town itself came within centimetres of being flooded.

At least 800 people in Squamish, Pemberton and Mount Currie were evacuated during the course of the worst rainfall flood seen in decades with about 140 homes severely damaged by floodwaters.

According to Ministry of the Solicitor General the total cost to date for Sea to Sky corridor damage is about $13.6 million.

About $10.2 million of that is for provincial repairs at about 105 sites. The largest portion of that cost, $7 million, is for the replacement of the Rutherford Creek Bridge.

Local government claims total about $2.1 million and there have been 306 homeowner and small business damage claims to date totalling about $1.3 million.

The first $4 million of the cost must be covered by the provincial government. Anything more than that – up to $20 million – is split 50-50 with the federal government.

CN Rail is also facing millions in repair costs to B.C. Rail bridges and rail lines.

And the costs for the Mt. Currie First Nations community, a federal responsibility, are still coming in but are expected to be over $1 million.

Mt. Currie Chief Leonard Andrew was to meet with federal officials this week to discuss the state of dyking in and around his community.

To date it appears as if the senior levels of government have been dragging their feet he said.

"If we are not floating down the river then they are not going to help us," said Andrew.

"This has been addressed in a study by the province and federal government, but the issue is the investment is huge, about $18 to $20 million."

The devastation has prompted calls for the government to once again look at how it is responding to the long-term threat of significant floods in B.C.

"We really see there being a need for a longer term funding program to assist the dyking districts and the local governments in managing the dyking system," said Steve Litke, program manager of the Fraser Basin Flood Hazard management program.

One issue is that dyking infrastructure, like much of the infrastructure across Canada, is getting old and not receiving the type of up keep that it needs, he said.

In both Pemberton and the Fraser Valley dredging needs to be done on river bottoms since over time gravel and sand is washed downstream, forcing the water levels to rise. As the water rises the dykes become inadequate in the event of a flood.

Added to this is the recent downloading by government of responsibility for disaster protection to local government or the several dyking districts in B.C. responsible for the maintenance of the dykes.

"When dykes require major repairs and dyke protection there are significant capital costs associated with that and those are often beyond the means of local government and more specifically the volunteer dyking district," said Litke.

The Fraser Basin Council, which believes local and provincial governments, and the private sector should fund any future strategy, is not alone in its concerns.

"I think it is fair to say that (local government) now has the responsibility but not the resources to deal with issues of this sort," said John Clague, the Canada research chair in natural hazards research at Simon Fraser University.

He believes the money should come from a larger pool whether it is the provincial government or shared provincial-federal funding.

"I think the province is abdicating its responsibility in the case of flood hazards. I can appreciate resources are tight but this type of disaster is going to happen again," he said.

There is also no one ministry or official responsible for dealing with flood protection or disasters.

Jordan Sturdy saw the devastation first hand on his Pemberton Valley farm, which has no dyking protection.

His home was flooded on the main floor, his entire pumpkin crop floated away down the Lilooeet River and his fields were four feet deep in washed sand when the water finally receded.

He estimates that the clean up cost him $50,000 out of his own pocket.

"There were things I was covered for," said Sturdy, who is also chair of the Pemberton Valley Dyking District.

"But my pumpkins weren’t covered and October is one of our busiest months and it was a complete write-off most of as our school tours did not come and none of that is eligible."

Sturdy would like to see the return of the Flood Protection Assistance Fund, which was scrapped this year. It provided money to help upgrade dykes and carry out maintenance work.

"It has been instrumental in the last eight years or so in getting work done on a cost share basis with the dyking district," said Sturdy.

"We have had three events here over the last 20 years and the magnitude has increased dramatically with each one.

"Reinstating this program is critical in an environment where we live with a tax base that makes it difficult to get enough to protect everybody or even just get our core essentials covered.

"I would really hope that the province will reassess this decision."

Solicitor General Rich Coleman said the fund was cancelled because: "…it was determined that most of the dyking work that would be covered had basically been done and it wasn’t being used."

And he added that the government’s response to the flood disaster showed that the provincial emergency plan does work.

"We try and respond as quickly as possible and I think we have managed the events we had throughout the province," he said adding that the government is looking at issues such as the dredging of the Fraser River.

But there were lessons said Coleman. All regional districts need to buy into the program and that’s why the provincial government has made funding available to bring everyone up to speed.

While arguments over response protocols will continue long into the future those on the frontlines of managing the plans say last year’s baptism by flood has made any future response a better one.

"I think we are better prepared because of our experience," said Paul Edgington, the administrator for the Squamish Lillooet Regional District.

"And with that experience we can make a more robust plan. But the underlying strength of any plan is the people in the community and we have a very strong community."

Squamish Mayor Ian Sutherland will never forget arriving at the town emergency centre before dawn a year ago and finding a line up of people waiting to help with flood efforts.

"There had to be 75 people standing outside in the pouring rain who said they would do whatever had to be done," he recalls.

And while the rest of the country may remember the hundreds of people forced from their homes in the Sea to Sky corridor by floods Sutherland recalls how his community came together to face a foe ready to wipe away anything in its path.

"I think one thing that came out of this for our community was that people knew overall that everyone was there for everyone else," he said.

"And that was heartwarming for those who were facing problems because it showed that that the community did care."

Many of the dykes around the town of Squamish were damaged with repair bills coming in around $490,000 to date. Homes on the flood plain, built before new building codes came into force, were also badly damaged.

Pemberton’s high school became the gathering point for evacuees there. But most of the time it was empty and anyone needing shelter was adopted into someone else’s home.

"I am so proud of the way our community came together," said Pemberton Mayor Elinor Warner.

"I was looking at some pictures of the flood recently and I said, ‘Oh, my God,’ because you are so involved at the time that that you don’t even realize the extent of what is happening.

"It was a reminder that water is just so powerful."

Pemberton is one of the municipalities which has recently received money from the provincial government to revamp its emergency plan.

"We need to be ready for any emergency, even something like a large bus accident" said Warner.

"The floods have taught us we must be ready."