The chair of British Columbia’s Fraser Valley Regional District is criticizing the province’s response to pleas for assistance during the floods, saying an urgent request for funding to shore up a road near Hope, B.C., was ignored until it was too late.
Jason Lum sounded the alarm on Tuesday, as British Columbia braced for the third in a series of storms battering the province’s Central and South Coast. Highways remain paralyzed and pockets of the province are still underwater from the heavy rainfall of two weeks ago; meteorologists said the incoming weather system could exacerbate conditions.
At a news conference on Tuesday, Mr. Lum said the district’s Emergency Operations Centre issued an urgent request to Emergency Management BC (EMBC) on Nov. 24 for $1.5-million to shore up Othello Road, which was put at risk by the rising Coquihalla River. Staff followed up for several days but received no response until Monday evening, Mr. Lum said – after the river had consumed the road, taking with it a number of homes.
Mr. Lum said the province’s current structure for providing funding and assistance, in which applications are decided on a case-by-case basis, moves too slowly, and he issued an urgent plea for more resources to protect other critical infrastructure before it’s too late.
“Throughout this event, we have experienced delays in getting funding approvals, and roads, water systems, diking infrastructure, sewer systems and bridges are at serious risk of either washing away or suffering catastrophic damage,” he said.
“Currently, we have funding requests for critical infrastructure such as the Wilson Road dike, where there are homes on the verge of falling into the river, and they need help today – not tomorrow, or in the coming days and weeks.”
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The Fraser Valley Regional District (FVRD) says it also applied to EMBC for $30,000 in funding to support volunteer firefighters who have worked for 10 days straight, and that that request was denied as well. Mr. Lum called the refusal insulting to people risking their lives for their neighbours.
In a statement, B.C. Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth said local authorities do not need approval of expenditures by the province before taking response actions, but that they “are advised to obtain authorization of financial assistance to check assumptions about which response costs the province considers eligible for financial assistance, especially when dealing with large cost items.”
In response, Mr. Lum said that requirements under the Local Government Act restrict regional district spending to service areas, and that these districts don’t have discretionary spending accounts for emergency situations with no service area.
“Proceeding with work without provincial authorization, with the risk of having the expenses turned down, would add insult to injury to people who have already lost their homes and would later have to be taxed for the repair bill,” Mr. Lum said in a statement.
The FVRD is a local government responsible for a 14,000-square-kilometre region that stretches from Abbotsford to Boston Bar, including six municipalities and eight electoral districts.
Meanwhile, the third atmospheric river arrived in B.C.’s Central and South Coast on Tuesday and was forecast to drench the region into Wednesday evening.
Armel Castellan, a warning preparedness meteorologist with Environment and Climate Change Canada, said more than 100 millimetres of rain was expected in Howe Sound on the North Shore, and possibly up to 150 millimetres outside Vancouver Island and the Central Coast. The Fraser Valley, including Abbotsford and Chilliwack, could see upward of 70 or 80 millimetres, he said.
“These quantities are going to be perhaps dangerous and impactful not only because the rain is plentiful … not only because the freezing levels are extraordinarily high and melting snow on those mountains, but also because snow has fallen along the Central and North Coast recently and that will also melt,” he said. “We also have the difficulty of having had three back-to-back storms with very little respite in the in-between period.”
David Campbell, head of the River Forecast Centre, said the cumulative impact of the storms could exacerbate or create new flooding issues throughout the South Coast, which includes the Lower Mainland and the hard-hit Fraser Valley.
“As we look to the Fraser Valley and the Sumas River, conditions in the Nooksack [River], we do expect that could be another area that we could see high flows over today and tomorrow,” he said Tuesday. “There is risk late [Wednesday] of seeing another overtopping event of that river.”
The Nooksack River breached its bank two weeks ago, pouring over fields and across the border into Canada, where farms around Abbotsford flooded.
In the Washington State border town of Sumas, heavy rainfall caused new flooding Tuesday, prompting authorities to rip open a road to allow waters to drain.
Abbotsford Mayor Henry Braun said Tuesday that while there was some new localized flooding in his city, forcing the evacuation of several more properties, regional water modelling for the next few days indicates a stabilization of overall water levels despite the continuing rain.
As well, officials in Whatcom County, across the border, said they were not expecting the Nooksack River to breach its banks in the next few days, Mr. Braun said – “however, the situation remains fluid and there is still some uncertainty.”
Late Tuesday morning, Mel Blankers, a fire chief in Everson, Wash., stood on Percy Hoekema’s porch and looked at farmland still partially inundated by the last two floods. A treeline a few hundred metres away marked the banks of the Nooksack River.
Mr. Blankers was preparing to survey the edge of the river in anticipation of more high water on the way, looking for gaps in the bank that could be filled with sandbags. His worry was that the next rain could wash out chunks of the remaining bank. But he wasn’t sure there was anything he could do.
“It’s so wet, I don’t know how you get out and get equipment out there,” he said. “We’re going to go out there and at least take a look.”
A short drive away, Kimberly Davis watched a crew of volunteers pry out wet wood from her garage, which flooded two weeks ago. She opened her phone to look at the latest report on Nooksack levels. The predicted crest had worsened since the last time she checked, with forecasters now saying some flooding is likely.
“Great, this is so awesome,” she said, sardonically. “Yeah, no. This sucks.”
On Monday, she received news that two vehicles parked in her garage during earlier floods cannot be fixed. On Tuesday, she stood on her porch to shelter from the latest round of rain, struggling to contemplate what more it could bring.
“I don’t want to think about it. I’m trying to do one step at a time,” she said. “Because you can only deal with so much stuff at once.”
Mr. Hoekema, 73, saw a divine challenge in the latest deluge. “I just think God said, ‘Here, see what you can do with this,’” he said. “Maybe we gotta listen. We’re pretty small when it comes to stopping rain.”
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