Flooded with complaints

City of Prince Albert community planning director Craig Guidinger speaks to concerned residents during the city’s flood plain update meeting at Riverside Public School. City councillors will vote on the proposed changes at the next session of council on Sept. 18. -- Jason Kerr/Daily Herald

The proposed adoption of a one-in-500 flood plain plan is not sitting well with Prince Albert residents, who gathered at Riverside Public School on Wednesday evening to voice their displeasure.

The school was the sight of a flood plain update meeting held by the city to answer questions about the 10 new policies that will be voted on at the Sept. 18 session of city council.

Residents from across the East and West Flat neighbourhoods came to voice displeasure at the new one-in-500 designation, which they believe will unnecessarily lower property values and hinder their ability to obtain flood insurance.

“It is very difficult to comprehend why the provincial government holds the City of Prince Albert accountable to a completely outdated regulation and threatens us if we do not comply,” resident Doris Lund said. “The province is ignoring the wishes of the city.”

Lund was one of several residents to voice their displeasure with the move. She called the science behind the decision outdated, and urged the city to fight for a one-in-100 flood designation instead, even if it meant taking the province to court.

Ward 4 Coun. Don Cody, whose ward includes many of the roughly 2,000 properties that will be affected by the change, stopped short of endorsing legal action, but maintained his fierce opposition to any changes.

“I don’t think going to court is really the answer, but sometimes there is such a thing as maybe doing something partly that way to get someone’s attention,” he said.

Like Lund, Cody questioned the outdated science and flood maps used to come to the one-in-500 designation. He added that he’s also had trouble purchasing overland flood insurance, since SGI told him his home sits in an area code where the option isn’t available.

Although he praised the work put in on the 10 new resolutions forward, he said the city hasn’t had enough time to make a proper decision on the subject. Ideally, he’s like city council to vote the plan down.

“I hope city council turns down the bylaw and simply says, ‘let’s ask (the provincial and federal governments) for funds,’ and if we have to throw some in, we will. Then let’s go and get the proper work done.”

City of Prince Albert planning director Craig Guidinger had his hands full answering questions during the meeting, most of which revolved around falling property prices, outdated science and difficulties obtaining insurance.

Afterwards, Guidinger said the city’s research shows 67 properties have been sold in the flood zone during the last two years, with an average price of $204/square foot. That’s up from 61 homes sold in 2014 and 2015 with an average price of $202/square foot. That’s an increase in sales price over the two years before.

He declined to speculate on why residents were having difficulty obtaining insurance, noting that the issue involved individual brokers and not the city.

Guidinger added that he wanted to see the science and mapping updated, but said the final decision rests with city council.

“I think that’s something that we should be doing in the near future. Ultimately that is a council consideration and there are funding options there that we’ll have to look at. In the interim, my focus is getting development to move forward and getting those policies updated so that we can continue to approve (building) projects.”

City council is scheduled to vote on the proposed changes when they receive second and third reading at the next city council meeting.

Mayor Greg Dionne said there’s no chance the city will take the government to court over the issue, but noted the issue is far from settled.

“The rest of us have to seriously have a look at it because we want to move the city forward, and if you look at the last couple of years, we’ve got more provincial and federal funding in this city than we’ve ever had, so do we want to jeopardize that? No, so we’re going to have a hard look at it.”

Dionne himself plans to promote the new bylaw, saying it would give city planners the necessary tools to approve any new developments.

Brandon flood plain

Many residents were not happy with the one-in-500 year flood designation given to the City of Prince Albert, with several noting that other communities like Brandon and Calgary are designated as one-in-100 year areas, despite having worse flooding than Prince Albert.

However, representatives from the City of Brandon say that’s not the case.

According to an email from Allison Collins, the city’s communications manager, Brandon’s one-in-100 designation was changed to one-in-300 after record flooding in 2011.

In 2014 the city received $12.5 million from the Manitoba government and another $12.5 million from the federal government to upgrade the linear dike and drainage system along the north and south sides of the Assiniboine River. The funding also helped upgrade local sewer services and added additional flood protection for Hwy 110, which crosses the river at the city’s east end.

Although the project was officially announced in 2014, construction won’t finish until 2018 at the earliest.