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Residents return to their homes to begin the clean up in High River, Alta., Sunday, July 7, 2013. High River Alberta was hit hard by the recent flooding. (Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail)
Residents return to their homes to begin the clean up in High River, Alta., Sunday, July 7, 2013. High River Alberta was hit hard by the recent flooding. (Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail)

Alberta government to hand out disaster assistance to homeowners Add to ...

The Alberta government has laid out the overarching tenets of a flood recovery and mitigation plan that includes a ban on new development in the province’s worst flood-prone areas, where homeowners who choose to stay and rebuild will be cut out of future disaster-recovery program payments.

Signalling a deference to the political hot-button issue of property rights, the province said Sunday it wants to “respect personal choices” and will still allow people to live where they choose. However, the long-term policy changes will alter the course of residential and business development in the province – providing incentive for people to relocate to higher ground from the most at-risk areas – and limit future public compensation. Last month’s historic floods will cost individuals, insurers and governments billions of dollars.

The broad strokes of the disaster-recovery plan for flood damages not covered by Canadian home insurance policies were unveiled Sunday at a news conference in Calgary. For a small but undefined number of Alberta properties located in hazard zones called “floodways” – where flood-water flows are the deepest, fastest and most destructive, and where floods are the most likely to occur – the Alberta government will allow homeowners to rebuild. However, these floodway land titles will carry a special notation making clear to owners, and future home buyers, that any house rebuilt in the zone will not qualify for future disaster assistance payments.

“If they choose to rebuild there, they can do that. That’s all they get,” said cabinet minister Doug Griffiths, the chairman of the province’s Ministerial Flood Recovery Task Force.

“Funding under the disaster recovery program is not insurance. It comes with conditions.”

With the cleanup in High River, Calgary and more than two dozen other communities still under way, Mr. Griffiths said he’s not yet sure of the total costs of the flood, which will be partly covered by federal dollars.

“The task to rebuild Alberta together is not less than monumental,” he told reporters.

But this fall, the province will make legislative changes that will prevent municipalities from approving new developments in these floodway zones. Albertans living in the “flood fringe,” a zone still prone to flooding but not as significant a concern as the floodways, will be given additional money to spend on flood-mitigation measures such as sealing a house to be water tight, or installing flood walls or berms.

While all flood claims will be looked at on an individual basis, and there’s no cap on the cost of replacing or fixing a house, government officials said disaster aid dollars will only allow homeowners to rebuild to an industry standard as determined by the program. The public purse will not pick up the cost of high-end appliances or expensive furniture – of particular issue in Calgary where some of the riverfront homes that were most flooded and damaged were also some of the city’s wealthiest.

Mr. Griffiths also said Albertans who move from a floodway may be compensated for their land, or given a land swap, but it “will depend on the value of the land. All of this is on a case-by-case basis.”

While many homeowners are likely to be pushed from their homes with the new policy, some will not want to move for financial or emotional reasons.

Monique Beaumont’s 1912 two-storey house backs onto the Elbow River in Calgary’s tony Roxboro neighbourhood. Ms. Beaumont saw her basement and main floor flooded last month, and believes she’s located in the “floodway” zone.

While Ms. Beaumont understands that some people might want, or be compelled, to move she has lived in the leafy Calgary neighbourhoods next to the river nearly her whole life and doesn’t believe this year’s massive flood will be a regular occurrence. She also lives on a street where lots were selling for more than $1-million each, pre-flood – and she owns her lovingly cared for home outright.

“Unless it’s an enforced move, I have no intention of moving,” Ms. Beaumont said. “For me, my house is worth staying in.”

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