CALGARY – Premier Jim Prentice announced new measures Friday to clean up outstanding claims from last year’s disastrous southern Alberta floods, and to prevent them from happening again.
Prentice said 12 new people will be hired to clear up the backlog of disaster claims. And new construction projects have been given the go-ahead to divert and contain river overflow.
“Last summer’s flood-stricken cities and towns need comprehensive projects that are going to make them more resilient,” Prentice told a news conference.
“As certain as we’re standing here today, we all know that floods are going to happen again in southern Alberta.”
However, Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi complained Friday that his city’s flood experts and policy makers were not consulted and said the premier’s announcement “represents a significant departure from previous policy.”
“The premier, just yesterday, announced he would be treating municipalities as true partners,” Nenshi said in a statement posted to the mayor’s website. “We look forward to that.”
The mayor said while he is happy at the increase in staff to handle claims, “we hope that when processing these appeals, the provincial government will address the legitimate concerns that have been raised by flood-affected families and that their claims will be re-assessed properly, fairly and quickly.”
The government said that more than 10,500 claims were made after the flooding in June 2013.
More than 8,000 claims have since been settled, but Prentice said he wants the rest wrapped up by the end of the year.
“The last thing that the victims of last year’s flood need is more red tape,” he said.
“We are going to put forward on a best efforts basis an attempt to clear up most if not all of the outstanding appeals files by December of 2014.”
Prentice said they will triple the number of officers to hear claims to 18 from six.
He said the province will also build a south diversion of the Highwood River to protect the town of High River, which saw 13,000 people forced from their homes.
“It’s anticipated that this diversion will provide one-in-300-year flood protection to the residents of High River,” he said.
Prentice said a dry reservoir will also be developed in the Springbank area, west of Calgary, to help protect the city from flooding along the Elbow River.
Prentice said homes in the area of the dry reservoir will be raised or relocated to higher ground, adding that 15 families will be directly affected.
He said those families will be treated and compensated fairly.
“Government is required to make tough decisions from time to time, and this is one of those occasions,” he said.
Evacuation zones will be created to help people get out and rescuers get in during floods.
Each of the projects will range from $150 million to $200 million and are expected to be completed within three years.
Prentice said a deal will also be struck with TransAlta to ensure that the Ghost Reservoir near Cochrane will be able to accommodate overflow from the Bow River to protect Calgary.
The changes, said Prentice, “will essentially provide Calgary immediately with one-in-100-year flood security protection.”
Nenshi said the city will be asking to see the province’s engineering reports.
“Based on our research and analysis to date, we believe that at least two and maybe all three proposed large-scale flood mitigation measures will be required; namely, Springbank, McLean Creek and the Glenmore Reservoir Tunnel,” said the mayor.
“It is surprising that the province would announce one project without having completed the analysis on the impact of the other two projects, since they all must be analyzed together.”
He also noted a recent federal study indicated a one-in-100-year protection standard is no longer appropriate.
“Calgary needs protection to a much higher level,” he said.
About 120,000 people were believed to have been affected after 350 mm of rain fell over two days in late June of 2013, wiping out roads, bridges, and swamping streets, homes, and vehicles in the region.
NDP critic Deron Bilous questioned the timing of Prentice’s announcement given that Prentice’s education minister, Gordon Dirks, will soon be running in a Calgary byelection to gain a seat in the legislature.
“This government has been dragging its feet on funding the necessary disaster recovery resources,” said Bilous.
“The timing of today’s announcement raises suspicion of an attempt to win votes in Calgary-Elbow.”
— By Dean Bennett in Edmonton