Canada

Communities hit by 2021 floods denied recovery funding: mayors

B.C. communities damaged by flooding in November 2021 say they’ve been left high and dry after being denied disaster funding from the federal government without an explanation.

Last week, Merritt Mayor Michael Goetz said he learned his city wasn’t going to get the $46.5 million it needed to reconstruct and improve a dike that was destroyed about two-and-a-half years ago. 

“I [was] not only surprised, but disappointed,” Goetz told CBC’s Daybreak Kamloops host Shelley Joyce.

An atmospheric river in 2021 brought heavy rains and flooding to several parts of B.C., forcing thousands of people from their homes and destroying houses and businesses. 

The City of Merritt, B.C., flooded on Nov. 14, 2021, after more than a day of extreme rain across southern B.C. Merritt’s mayor said he learned his city wasn’t going to get the $46.5 million it needed to reconstruct and improve a dike that was destroyed about two-and-a-half years ago.  (Submitted by Bailee Allen)

Goetz said the cities of Merritt, Princeton and Abbotsford — three of the hardest hit communities — applied for federal recovery funding through the Disaster Mitigation and Adaptation Fund to help with reconstruction and future flood prevention. 

All three were denied, according to Goetz. Both he and the mayor of Princeton say no explanation was given. 

CBC News requested information from the federal government on Tuesday, and has not yet heard back. 

People clean up after flooding
The City of Princeton remains under a boil water notice, which went into effect in 2021. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

Goetz said the three mayors hope to get answers and even reverse the federal government’s decision. 

“We are going to make a concerted effort over the next week or two to come up with a plan and then approach the minister to find out if this is exactly what he wants to do, and the ramifications that come with it,” he said. 

“If that doesn’t work, then we’ll have to kind of adjust how we will respond.”

Flood impact still apparent two years later

The City of Princeton, located about 170 kilometres south of Kamloops in the B.C. Interior, remains under a boil water notice, which went into effect in 2021 after flood waters contaminated the city’s drinking water. 

Mayor Spencer Coyne said he hopes the notice will be lifted in the fall, after well and water system replacements are complete. 

But there’s still work to be done, he says. In his application to the feds, Coyne asked for nearly $22 million to go toward a dike, erosion protection and infrastructure changes to prepare for future floods. 

If another atmospheric river hits the community, they’d be right back at square one, Coyne said. If it brought more water than last time, the situation would be much worse. 

In Merritt, Goetz said a large portion of the community, located around 190 kilometres northeast of Vancouver, will remain unprotected from severe weather events, which, due to climate change, are expected to become more frequent and worsen. 

CBC News requested an interview with Abbotsford Mayor Ross Siemens. That request was declined, but a spokesperson for the city confirmed that Abbotsford was also denied funding from the same program.

All three mayors are scheduled to speak at a press conference in Abbotsford on June 3. 

LISTEN | Merritt mayor says city needs funding to protect homes from future disasters

Daybreak Kamloops7:15Merritt mayor says feds rejected application for flood recovery funding, gave no reason why

The City of Merritt, which was evacuated during the floods of November 2021, applied for federal funding to build infrastructure in order to reduce the risk of future flooding. But Mayor Michael Goetz says the city’s application was rejected without explanation.

Communities need help

Goetz and Coyne say they’ve received ample support from the provincial government, but still need assistance.

Coyne worries the reason Princeton and Merritt were denied federal funding is political. 

“I think there’s a disconnect between Ottawa and the rest of us,” he said, adding that both Princeton and Merritt are in a federal riding held by the Conservative Party of Canada — not the party currently in power. 

“It does feel sometimes that we’re kind of left out because of it.”

Goetz has a hunch that there is no money left in the fund. 

“In that case, say that,” he said.

Goetz said the federal government needs to help Canadians dealing with the fallout of natural disasters.

“The situation is you and I pay taxes — federal, provincial — our tax dollars go to our governments and that’s being held in trust to help us when things go completely wrong,” he said. 

“This is our money and we’re asking for it back. Right now we’re going to be asking for it, but at some point we may have to demand it.”

LISTEN | Princeton mayor speaks about flood recovery funding

Daybreak South6:48Princeton Mayor Spencer Coyne says the federal government turned down the community’s application for a flood mitigation grant.

It’s been two and a half years since flooding swamped Princeton. The community is still recovering. And, now the town’s bid to protect itself from future floods has hit a major snag. Princeton Mayor Spencer Coyne explains why the Federal Government turned down the community’s application. 

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