It has been almost 23 months since the atmospheric river event caused the Coldwater to alter the course of Merritt both geographically and historically.
Yet, almost two years after the Nov. 2021 flood, dozens of Merrittonians remain homeless and financially destitute, something Mayor Mike Goetz says remains at the forefront of the minds of himself and council.
Almost the entirety of city council attended the Union of B.C. Municipalities convention in Vancouver in mid-September, taking over a dozen meetings with constituents across the provincial government landscape. One such meeting was with Bruce Ralston, Minister of Forests, a department that Goetz said is crucial to getting the funds to buy out the 37 homes remain uninhabitable.
“We have to work through the Ministry of Forests to get the money to buy the people out where the flood was on Pine Street,” Goetz told the Herald. “So we have a thing called ‘CLAP’ which is the Coldwater Land Acquisition Plan. That’s where we’re going to be buying out the 37 homes that have to be fully or partially bought out, so we can move ahead with the diking. So in order for that to happen, even though it’s federal dollars that will do that, the provincial government has to be on board and approve it through the Ministry of Forests.”
The information that mayor and council presented to the minister was nothing new that he had not seen before. Instead, Goetz said it was to reiterate the fact that residents are no approaching the second-year mark with yet to be one homeowner bought out.
“They seem to be very for it, they like the plan, it’s well done, now what they do is they go back to Ottawa and again say ‘we’re onboard with this plan.”
Getting these gears in motion would certainly be better sooner rather than later, as the red tape that comes with any federal decision is aplenty, needing the plan to then go to cabinet to be approved before being put before the treasury board.
“For us and council, the most important thing is to get those people bought out,” said Goetz. “Because we can’t fix the dikes until those properties have been purchased, because the dikes are going to need to take up some of their property. There’s no power to them anymore, there’s no sewer, they’re just derelict homes. Humanitarian cause would be to get these people paid off so that they can get on with their lives. So that’s the first thing that we’re pushing for.”
The frustration at the snail’s pace of the process is palpable.
“We’re way behind schedule. We haven’t turned a single rock on those dikes in two years. And they’re still damaged coming into a third freshet. So to say we’re behind schedule is laughable. We have no schedule. We’re waiting for the federal government.”
The Government of Canada operates a program called the Disaster Mitigation Adaptation Fund, or DMAF. Though it went cold for 13 months as no money was funnelled into the program, it reopened on July 2, 2022, with the City of Merritt submitting a 165-page application the very same day.
“We have heard nothing back. Unfortunately DMAF does not give you updates on where they are in the process. It’s one of the broken things about the system.”
Goetz testified on May 4 this year via Zoom call in the House of Commons as to the problems with DMAF and the ways to fix it. He said that the issue lies with the sharing of responsibilities between the provincial and federal governments, with neither seeming to take the reins.
“Having them go back-and-forth like a ping-pong match, all it does it cause problems for the people that are caught in the middle, which is us. So we still have no safety on the dikes, no money to buy the people out going into their third year of waiting.”
Though city staff continue to give the federal government constant updates while awaiting action, Goetz said that ultimately the ball is now ultimately in Ottawa’s court to get displaced residents back to a normal way of life.
“Their frustration is real, and our frustration is real.”