Councillors up in arms over flood plan

The North Saskatchewan River’s bank at the East Flat. Many houses there could be threatened by a 1-in-500 year flood. Arthur White-Crummey/Daily Herald

Council continues to delay passing a provincially mandated flood plan, with some councillors apparently willing to risk an inter-jurisdictional game of chicken that could disempower the city’s planning department.

“I know that we’ve been down this road a number of times,” said planning director John Guenther, as he began a presentation to council’s executive committee on Tuesday. For years, he’s been trying to amend the city’s official community plan to comply with provincial policy.

The government requires municipalities to plan for a major flooding event – the kind that comes along once in every 500 years – by limiting development within the water’s likely path. About 2,000 homes in the East Flat, the West Flat and Hazeldell fall within that floodplain.

Guenther said the city already applies flood-proofing standards in those areas. But the province wants to see those standards written into the new official community plan – the city’s main development document. Otherwise, Guenther said, it won’t get approved.

But councillors seem willing to run that risk. The motion only called for a report on possible amendments to the plan, but council shot it down.

“This is not as easy as writing a report,” Councillor Don Cody said. “To affect 2,000 people in their homes or their property, whatever it may be, is not a small issue.”

He said the proposed measures could affect the value of people’s homes – their life savings. He blasted the “stubbornness” council is running up against. If the government isn’t willing to approve the city’s community plan, he said, council should just wait for a new government.

Guenther presented councillors with a range of mitigation options that could satisfy the province, including an $11-million dyke to completely shield the flood plain. The proposed dyke, extending two kilometres on each side of the Diefenbaker Bridge, would be about two metres high. He admitted it could obstruct views of the river. The city could also purchase sand bags and bladders as part of an emergency response plan, he told council.

But Cody was just as hard on those proposals. He said the city shouldn’t have to fork up cash to pay for the province’s policy, which he said is much more stringent than what’s applied anywhere else in the country.

“We’ve never had a flood here. We’ll never have a flood,” he said. “We’re going to spend $10 million on a dyke, or we’re going to spend a bunch of money getting ready with sandbags? It just doesn’t make any sense.”

City Manager Jim Toye told the Daily Herald that he’ll keep pushing council to make a decision on flood mitigation.

“We want to make this go forward,” he said. “We have a commitment to the provincial government that we have to have something before them in this regard prior to the end of June. If we don’t have that, they basically take over that whole department.”

If that happens, he said, the city would need provincial approval for all sorts of things: new subdivisions, zoning changes, amendments to the community plan.

For more on this story, see the May 25 print or e-edition of the Daily Herald.