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Residents have mixed feelings about potential buyouts

Last Updated Jul 20, 2020 at 10:26 pm MST

First responders are deployed to a housing complex as Fort McMurray experiences unprecedented flooding. CREDIT: @RMWoodBuffallo)

The Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo conducted its first virtual townhall on flood mitigation.

Titled ‘Flood Risk: A Community Conversation’, residents offered their thoughts on the development options the RMWB may consider.

Their concerns stem from the tabling of the ‘Improving Community Resilience’ report at the July 14 Council Meeting, which includes buyouts.

The report looked at this, development restrictions, and other options for Fort McMurray’s downtown communities.

RELATED: RMWB examines flood mitigation options in technical review

At the July 14 meeting, RMWB Council asked the administration to consider the Longboat Landing neighbourhood.

“Longboat Landing will be considered as a standalone community.” Said Deputy CAO Matthew Hough.

Originally part of Downtown, the community is the sixth to undergo evaluation.

The others are Taiga Nova, Downtown, Ptarmigan Court, Waterways, and Draper.

Community Conversation

The report initially recommends buyouts for residents in Ptarmigan Court, Waterways, and Draper.

Several residents from those neighbourhoods, who participated in the townhall, said they and their neighbours have mixed feelings.

One caller, who said she raised her Ptarmigan Court property about the 250-meter cutoff, added she did not want to move.

Brad McMurdo, Director of RMWB Planning and Development, said how the administration made the recommendation for Ptarmigan Court.

“We put forward some findings in the Resiliency report that were based on ongoing discussion with several different stakeholders and technical folk. Understanding that the process with respect to buyout is still being explored, and that hinges tremendously with community feedback.”

McMurdo said the RMWB did not make any decisions to date, so they will continue the conversation with the community.

Deputy CAO Matthew Hough would later add that expropriation, while possible, is a tool of last resort.

“Whatever the outcome of this conversation, we want to move forward with community support. If buyouts are pursued, we intend to negotiate with property owners in good faith.”

Another resident from Draper asked about buyouts for the area above the 250-meter line.

Chris Booth, who is the Manager for RMWB Planning and Development, gave two reasons.

“Residents in Draper did raise with us geotechnical concerns post-wildfire on the hillside properties, or those above the [250-meter mark], and there is a single access road that is relied upon by both residents above and below 250 meters.”

Booth added the review did not initially recommend Downtown for buyouts, but the conversation is ongoing.

Residents next asked about property values in case RMWB Council considers that option.

CAO Jamie Doyle said the RMWB would enact measures to ensure the safety of adjacent areas.

“We will certainly endeavour to apply protective land-use zoning and restrictions to ensure public safety.”

He also addressed concerns about taxation.

Doyle said specific increases with respect to buyouts are hard to determine at this stage.

“Each year, we try to keep the tax rate married to property values to keep the property taxes minimal. Keeping in mind, we have some of the lowest property taxes in the province.”

He said to expect a tax on flood mitigation efforts over the next six years.

Looking ahead

Deputy CAO Hough said the administration intends to discuss all development options with residents and property owners.

“We’re not at the stage of last resort at this time, so we haven’t fully examined the possibility of expropriation or related compensation. At this time, we’re really seeking what residents [and] property owners’ view are of the development options put forward.”

The Municipality scheduled a Live event on the RMWB’s Facebook page for July 23 at 2:00 p.m.

Mayor Don Scott said on insurance claims exceeds $400-million, in addition to the $100-million from Disaster Relief Program (DRP) funding.

He said he worries about the availability of flood insurance at reasonable prices.

“Other levels of government have not confirmed their level of participation as of yet. That’s as far as contributing to berms, flood mitigation, buyouts or [land swaps]. Those are all factors, in addition to everything that was discussed, which were all good points raised by many residents, to these are additional concerns that I have.”

Mayor Scott and CAO Doyle said DRP funding and affordable insurance may also not be available at future flood events.

Residents may speak to the technical report when it returns to RMWB Council on July 28.

RELATED: Disaster Recovery Program application help available

Flood-impacted residents have until Aug. 5, 2020, to register for DRP funding.