Council scuttles request to seek flood mitigation work

By on February 14, 2018
Last spring a large snowpack, heavy rain and fast spring melt led to flooding all around the Nicola Valley. In Merritt, the Nicola River rose to the edge of the Eldorado trailer park. (Herald files).

The City of Merritt’s environment committee wants to ensure steps are taken to mitigate the impact potential flooding in the Nicola Valley given what was experienced last year.

At its regular meeting held Tuesday (Feb.13) city council denied a request from the committee, which asked council to direct staff to investigate their options for flood mitigation with the appropriate agencies and hire an engineering firm to prepare a flood mitigation strategy.

Council automatically defeated the motion after a tied In a tied 3-3 vote in which two of three council members who sit on the environment committee voted against the motion.

Councillors and committee members Mike Goetz and Ginny Prowal along with Coun. Diana Norgaard voted against the recommendation. Coun. Linda Brown was not in attendance for the meeting as she is on vacation, giving council an even number of votes.

The idea was fleshed out by the committee at its Jan. 24 meeting.

“I think it’s just timely,” committee chair Patrick Farmer told the Herald following that meeting regarding its recommendation to council. “We had some flooding last year and this is an opportunity to strike while the iron’s hot. There were lot of people impacted by flooding last year [and] it’s in the city’s best interest to look into that stuff to see what needs to be done.”

With only Coun. Goetz not in attendance for that meeting, the rest of the environment committee carried the motion it brought to council on Tuesday.

Despite initially supporting what her committee brought forward, Prowal said she voted against it at council because she came across related studies the city had commissioned in the past she thinks should be reviewed first.

“I’m not against it, I’m just not sure about the engineering part and we have a lot of information to go through,” Prowal told the Herald. “Flood mitigation’s important, were just need to review what we already have.”

With another environment committee meeting coming up, Prowal said they can review this information at that time.

Coun. Diana Norgaard said she voted against the motion because it did not come with any estimated dollar figure to produce the report.

“I think it’s important we be working on flood mitigation, but I’m not necessarily sure that the taxpayers need to spend money on another consultant’s report,” Norgaard told the Herald.

Coun. Goetz said he wanted to see a cost associated with the plan before proceeding with it.

Environment committee member Coun. Kurt Christopherson initially brought the flood mitigation idea forward on Jan. 24, saying the city should take steps to mitigate the problem given the likelihood of last year’s flooding conditions repeating.

“We’d be remise if we didn’t start looking at that,” Christopherson said at the committee meeting. “I think it’s a bigger issue than can be handled by a city, but somebody has to start the process.”

That June, council approved striking a committee to make recommendations regarding how to implement flood management mitigation procedures, which would be comprised of appropriate members of city staff and outside agencies, but it has been difficult to gather people together for such a committee, Christopherson told the Herald following Tuesday’s council meeting.

Fraser Basin Council launching flood risk assessment

While the city won’t pursue any new flood mitigation strategy, it will likely benefit from the work already underway by the Fraser Basin Council.

Thanks to a $600,000 grant for Emergency Management BC and Public Safety Canada, the Fraser Basin Council (FBC) will conduct a flood risk assessment of the entire Thompson watershed, which includes the Nicola watershed.

Over the next two years, the FBC will examine the entire Thompson watershed, collecting information to determine what areas are at risk, what can be expected in the future and how to prepare for it, said Mike Simpson, senior regional manager for the Thompson area of the FBC.

Additionally, the FBC will seek additional funding to begin updating floodplain maps in the area.

“We’re wanting to figure out what local governments or First Nations have already done and have in place, so we’re just at that early stage,” Simpson said.

The FBC held its first forum to that effect on Feb. 14 in Kamloops with multiple levels of government including the City of Merritt.

“Merritt and the Nicola watershed is just one part of the bigger Thompson,” Simpson told the Herald, noting the meeting involves 48 local governments and First Nations along with the provincial and federal governments.

Follow up meetings with individual communities will be held as part of the data collection, and the risk assessment is expected to be complete in 2019.

“What this [work] does this year is lay the foundation about where do we need to focus on new developments in the floodplain, where any critical infrastructure is and where do we need to update our floodplain maps,” Simpson said.

If it receives additional funding, the FBC expects to revise floodplain mapping by 2020.

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