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RMWB examines flood mitigation options in technical review

Last Updated Jul 15, 2020 at 12:05 am MDT

PHOTO. Regional Fire Chief Jody Butz, middle, guides members of RMWB Council through flood-impacted areas of downtown Fort McMurray. (CREDIT: Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo.)

Deputy CAO Matthew Hough presented to RMWB Council a verbal update on flood mitigation efforts On July 14, 2020.

He said maintaining the status quo is not an option.

The administration released a technical review titled “Improving Community Resilience: 2020 Overland Flood Considerations in the RMWB”.

Community Resilience

In its overview, the Municipality said in order to preserve access to Disaster Relief Program (DRP) funding, it must protect areas from flooding or buy out affected properties.

As the DRP funding model will change, more of the burden would fall on municipalities like the RMWB.

The administration examined several recommendations:

  • Flood mitigation
  • Flood provisions in the Land Use Bylaw
  • No new or limited development below the 250-meter elevation
  • Buyouts for properties below the prescribed elevation mark or all properties in affected areas, or a land swap
  • A combination of options.

 

Hough said the technical report analyzed these options for Taiga Nova, Downtown, Ptarmigan Court, Waterways, and Draper.

“It’s one thing for some residents to move on, but it’s another for those who remain and what remains of their community. I’m very interested to hear, based on the technical report, what those residents think of this.”

He said the report also seeks to minimize residual risk to life, residences, the economy, and the environment in each area.

The review suggested continuing with flood mitigation and provisions in the Land Use Bylaw for Taiga Nova and Downtown.

It did not recommend full buyouts for those areas, which it estimates at $463.4-million and $1.79-billion respectively.

“The scoring of those approaches did not measure up. Significant buyouts in both areas would be incredibly expensive.”

Hough said the loss would also pose a great socio-economic risk to the region and its remaining residents.

The review did recommend the full buyout option for Ptarmigan Court at an estimated $14-million, and for Draper at $60-million.

99 per cent of private properties are below the 250-meter elevation in Ptarmigan Court.

The administration estimates flood mitigation costs in the area at $22.8-million, while the estimate for Draper is $118-million.

According to 2018 Census data, Draper houses 98 private properties, with only 65 per cent below the 250-meter mark.

For Waterways, the report listed three alternatives:

  1. Flood provisions in the Land Use Bylaw and buyouts of properties below the 250-meter elevation (94 private properties reside below that mark; 43 are developed)
  2. Continue with flood mitigation along with provisions and buyouts
  3. The buyout of all properties (full buyout estimate: $56.7-million)

 

Hough said full buyouts in Waterways, for example, could impact flood mitigation work in the area.

“There could be a change. Reaches 10 and 11 would see that section of Saline Creek Parkway raised and act as both the start of our egress road and the berm. If we’re buying out properties below the 250-meter mark, it would no longer make sense to raise that portion of [the] road.”

He added he welcomes feedback from residents living above the 250-meter mark in Waterways.

IMAGE. An inset map of proposed flood mitigation work in Waterways and Draper. Supplied by the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo.

 

Hough said cost savings could offset the cost of buyouts for Waterways.

“Of course, it will be up to RMWB Council whether they endorse our recommendation or we continue the analysis and discussion beyond that.”

Hough said he hopes to hold more Community Conversations with residents over the summer to reach a consensus.

Public Engagement

The Municipality conducted a survey from June 26 to July 8, 2020.

Mayor and Councillors said the number of respondents, which was only 864, is low for such an important topic.

Hough said they spread evenly between those impacted and not impacted by the flood.

Once open to the region, only 41 per cent of respondents said they live in downtown Fort McMurray.

Respondents answered questions from strong support to strong opposition and then needing more information.

  • 76 per cent strongly support or support the idea of ending new developments in flood-prone areas.
  • 75 per cent strongly support or support the idea of land controls on new developments below the 250-meter elevation.
  • 62 per cent strongly support or support the idea of buyouts in flood-prone areas, while six per cent asking for clarification.
  • 60 per cent strongly support or support the idea of land swaps in flood-prone areas with eight per cent needing more information.
  • 48 per cent strongly support or support keeping the approach as is (eg. berms, structural approach, etc.)

 

RMWB Council voted unanimously of the motion to accept the report as information.

As part of the motion, Mayor and Councillors will hold a special meeting on July 28 to discuss the approaches outlined in the report.

The administration scheduled a virtual townhall for July 20 at 6:00 p.m.

Full results of the survey are available for download on the Municipality’s website.

RMWB Council also spoke to several other issues at the July 14 meeting.