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

Tracy Owen-Best with her husband, Larry Best. Tracy runs both the Nechako Barbershop and Hair Essentials Salon in Kitimat. Diagnosed with cancer in March 2020, she’s kept a positive mindset with the help from a supportive family. (Photo supplied)
In Our Valley: Tracy Owen-Best

Barbershop owner and cancer fighter keeps it positive

The Quesnel RCMP Detachment is one of seven northern police buildings which can now connect directly to Prince George for daily bail hearings. (Observer File Photo)
Bail hearings going virtual in B.C.’s north

A court pilot project will see virtual courtroom cameras set up in seven RCMP detatchments

FILE – Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs have agreed to sign a memorandum on rights and title with B.C. and Ottawa, but elected chiefs are demanding it be called off over lack of consultation. (Thom Barker photo)
Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs, Lake Babine Nation get provincial funding for land, title rights

Government says it’s a new, flexible model for future agreements between Canada, B.C. and First Nations.

The fence option chosen for the 461 Quatsino Boulevard development is the red lines that border the site plan. The fence will be roughly six feet high with the exception of the fence bordering Cranberry Street which will be eight feet high. (Boni Maddison Architects photo)
Fence to be erected between housing project and Kitimat homeowners

Residents of the Cranberry Street area are finally getting the fence they want

Rising demand for police to perform well-being checks and field calls for people struggling with domestic violence cases is driving the city to formulate a ‘situation table’ to connect vulnerable people with the services they need. (News Bulletin file photo)
Situation Table comes to Kitimat to support vulnerable people

Situation Tables identify and help vulnerable people in need.

In this image from NASA, NASA’s experimental Mars helicopter Ingenuity lands on the surface of Mars Monday, April 19, 2021. The little 4-pound helicopter rose from the dusty red surface into the thin Martian air Monday, achieving the first powered, controlled flight on another planet. (NASA via AP)
VIDEO: NASA’s Mars helicopter takes flight, 1st for another planet

The $85 million helicopter demo was considered high risk, yet high reward

Russ Ball (left) and some of the team show off the specimen after they were able to remove it Friday. Photo supplied
80-million-year-old turtle find on B.C. river exciting fossil hunters

Remains of two-foot creature of undetermined species will now make its home at the Royal BC Museum

Joudelie King wants to get out and live life to the fullest, but there are places she can’t go because they don’t meet her accessibility needs. (submitted photo)
New online tool provides accessibility map for people with disabilities

The myCommunity BC map provides accessibility info for nearly 1,000 locations in the province

British Columbia’s provincial flag flies in Ottawa, Friday July 3, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Wildfire fanned by winds near Merritt prompts evacuation alert

BC Wildfire Service says the suspected human-caused blaze was fanned by winds

The Rogers logo is photographed in Toronto on Monday, September 30, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Tijana Martin
Rogers investigating after wireless customers complain of widespread outage

According to Down Detector, problems are being reported in most major Canadian cities

Flow Academy is located at 1511 Sutherland Avenue in Kelowna. (Michael Rodriguez - Capital News)
National fitness group condemns unlicensed Kelowna gym’s anti-vaccine policy

The Fitness Industry Council of Canada says Flow Academy is shining a negative light on the industry

People are shown at a COVID-19 vaccination site in Montreal, Sunday, April 18, 2021, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
Nothing stopping provinces from offering AstraZeneca vaccine to all adults: Hajdu

Health Canada has licensed the AstraZeneca shot for use in people over the age of 18

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland responds to a question during Question Period in the House of Commons Tuesday December 8, 2020 in Ottawa. The stage is set for arguably the most important federal budget in recent memory, as the Liberal government prepares to unveil its plan for Canada’s post-pandemic recovery even as a third wave of COVID-19 rages across the country. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Election reticence expected to temper political battle over federal budget

Opposition parties have laid out their own demands in the weeks leading up to the budget

Most Read