Flood recovery manager Graham Watt answers questions about the buyouts of properties selected for flood mitigation infrastructure in November at Grand Forks City Hall.                                (Jensen Edwards/Grand Forks Gazette)

Flood recovery manager Graham Watt answers questions about the buyouts of properties selected for flood mitigation infrastructure in November at Grand Forks City Hall. (Jensen Edwards/Grand Forks Gazette)

City of Grand Forks apologizes for portraying residents as victims in wake of 2018 floods

The apology also says that buyouts part of infrastructure plan, not flood recovery

The City of Grand Forks apologized last week to residents whose properties make up a key component of the city’s future flood mitigation plans, saying that it wants to set the public record straight about why it plans to buy up swathes of properties along the Kettle and Granby river paths.

“It’s really important to separate flood recovery from the mitigation and resilience phase,” said Graham Watt, who is the flood recovery and resilience manager with the city. “We just really need to clear that up and have the simple message that this is not about recovery – this is about mitigation.”

The apology comes after affected residents have repeatedly brought their concerns forward that they were being publicly portrayed as victims asking for hand-outs as a means to recover after the May 2018 flood destroyed or damaged many of their properties. Rather than being treated as “flood victims,” residents whose lands are targeted have asked city officials to be transparent about why the buyout is necessary. In a press release, Watt made the city’s position clear.

“Affected property owners are taxpayers and not flood victims looking for handouts,” he said. “Rather, [the buyouts are part of] a flood mitigation program to make the community as a whole more flood-resilient.”

RELATED: Buyout residents ask for expert representation in land negotiations

RELATED: Residents petition for pre-flood value, say Grand Forks could set B.C. precedent

RELATED: Grand Forks mulls in-kind options to support buyout residents

As part of a $55-million grant package announced last June, Grand Forks has designated more than 100 properties in the local floodplain to buy and transform into part of the city’s future flood mitigation plan, which includes diking and removing. Since that funding was announced, residents in buyout areas have been dealing with the fact that the grant would only cover “current market value” for their homes, some of which lost upwards of $100,000 in value after the May 2018 flood, according to assessments conducted last winter. The city, in turn, has been cobbling together other solutions to try to level out inequities in funding, such as most recently offering straight land swap deals for some property owners.

New appraisals for targeted properties began earlier this month.

The shift in framing by the city from helping flood-affected individuals to treating those property owners as asset holders in an infrastructure project reflects a more accurate picture, said North Ruckle resident Dave Soroka, who said that the buyouts are not about restoring residents’ homes but rather about securing the city’s future.

“These people are being forced to leave, and a lot of them, they’re not happy about it,” Soroka said Friday. Taking on the city’s perspective, Soroka explained the issue: “We need their land in order to save the rest of you in future floods, so that you have a downtown core.”

Watt agreed to Soroka’s understanding of the buyout as part of an infrastructure project.

“I really want to emphasize that this is just one of the costs of the mitigation program,” the program manager said, “whether it’s concrete or costs and machinery and mobilization or whatever else.”

Last month, Watt told Soroka and other demonstrators at city hall that the properties targeted, mostly in the Ruckle neighbourhood, were chosen to be restored to the floodplain because engineering reports indicated that the area, once existing barriers are moved further back from the river bank, will help prevent water from backing up in the Kettle River and Granby River during freshet season.

Watt also said that the decision was partly economic, noting that it was cheaper to implement necessary flood mitigation measures with the properties slated for buyouts rather than use part of the low-lying downtown or to add additional protection features.

When governments require private land for public projects, it is normal to try and negotiate deals before involving the Expropriation Act, a piece of provincial legislation that dictates how public-private land deals proceed in court if no prior agreement is reached. The act says that compensation is based on the plot’s market value plus “reasonable damages,” or the market value of the land at its “highest and best use,” whichever is greater. But while the city and residents are not entering expropriation by law currently, it’s what Soroka says sits at the end of the path.

“We’ve entered upon the path outlined by the Expropriation Act,” he said, “so call it what you want, but but we’re on the expropriation path.”

At the moment though, the city is looking to increase affected residents’ involvement in the design of the buyout process to achieve its goal of establishing fair and mutually agreed deals with property owners. As such, the city also publicly recognized last week that they were not transparent enough with property owners throughout the planning process.

“When the city heard in June that funders would not support pre-flood values, we should have engaged with affected residents right away to find solutions,” Watt said. “On behalf of the city, I apologize, and promise to enhance communication and consultation.”

The program manager said that dialogue and greater input from affected landowners is key to achieving deals. “I think it does change and how we’re trying to do things and and we are really recognizing that, for the solutions here to work, we really have to work together as a community and try to explore solutions with people that are most affected.”

Soroka, who said he noticed a shift in the relationship between city officials and property owners at a November meeting, agreed.

“I think [Watt]’s realizing what it’s going to take to accomplish that and it’s going to take a lot of a lot of listening understanding and patience,” Soroka said. “But it’s going to also take a good a good understanding of what it is the law provides for us.”


@jensenedw
Jensen.edwards@grandforksgazette.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A health care worker prepares to test a Coastal GasLink field worker for COVID-19. (Coastal GasLink photo)
Coastal GasLink begins COVID screening of pipeline workers

Construction is once again ramping up following Northern Health approval of COVID management plan

FILE – A COVID-19 vaccine being prepared. (Olivia Sullivan/Sound Publishing)
B.C. seniors 80 years and older to get COVID vaccine details over next 2 weeks: Henry

Province is expanding vaccine workforce as officials ramp up age-based rollout

(Black Press file photo)
Charges laid against two suspects in pre-Christmas home invasion

An 88-year-old woman was hospitalized after being bear-sprayed in the face Dec. 18, 2020

Liam and Tyler Spaans, (L-R), are two of the current lifeguards at the Houston Leisure Facility. (Houston Leisure Services file photo)
Leisure facility anticipates need for lifeguards

Has been challenged in the past

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C.’s COVID-19 situation at the B.C. legislature. (B.C. government)
B.C. reports 10 additional deaths, 395 new COVID-19 cases

The majority of new coronavirus infections were in the Fraser Health region

“Our biggest challenge has been the amount of vaccine,” said FNHA acting chief medical officer Dr. Shannon McDonald. (First Nations Health Authority Facebook photo)
All First Nations on reserve to be vaccinated by end of March: First Nations Health Authority

Vaccinations continuing for B.C. First Nations amid shortages

(Delta Police Department photo)
B.C. youth calls 911 after accruing $7K in online gaming charges

‘Police spoke with the student about appropriate times to call 911’

Site C will go ahead, one year later and $5.3 billion more, the NDP announced Feb 26. (BC Hydro image)
B.C. NDP announces Site C will go ahead with new $16B budget

Reviews recommend more oversight, beefed up foundation stability work

The BC Prosecution Service announced last year that it was appointing lawyer Marilyn Sandford as a special prosecutor to review the case, following media inquiries about disclosure issues linked to a pathologist involved in the matter. (Black Press Media files)
Possible miscarriage of justice in B.C. woman’s conviction in toddler drowning: prosecutor

Tammy Bouvette was originally charged with second-degree murder but pleaded guilty in 2013 to the lesser charge

A kid in elementary school wearing a face mask amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (Metro Creative)
Union asks why an elementary school mask rule wouldn’t work in B.C. if it does elsewhere

B.C. education minister announced expansion of mask-wearing rules in middle, high school but not elementary students

A pharmacist prepares a COVID-19 vaccine at Village Green Retirement Campus in Federal Way on Jan. 26. (Olivia Sullivan/Sound Publishing)
Canada approves use of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine

The country joins more than a dozen others in giving the shot the green light

A new survey has found that virtual visits are British Columbian’s preferred way to see the doctor amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (Unsplash)
Majority of British Columbians now prefer routine virtual doctor’s visits: study

More than 82% feel virtual health options reduce wait times, 64% think they lead to better health

Carolyn Howe, a kindergarten teacher and vice president of the Greater Victoria Teachers’ Association, says educators are feeling the strain of the COVID-19 pandemic and the influx of pressure that comes with it. (Nina Grossman/News Staff)
Stress leave, tears and insomnia: B.C. teachers feel the strain of COVID-19

Teachers still adjusting to mask and cleaning rules, pressures from outside and within

Most Read