The District of Sicamous continues to struggle with the B.C. government to recoup costs associated with last year’s debris flow and flooding.
Last summer, on June 23, a devastating debris flow from Sicamous Creek into the 2 Mile subdivision pushed the community into a state of emergency. The situation was exacerbated by the subsequent high water in Shuswap and Mara lakes that caused wide-scale flooding.
Last week, council addressed two letters concerning expenses relating to costs incurred during the emergency and after. One was from Emergency Management BC, stating the district’s recovery plan that describes recovery work required to restore infrastructure to pre-event condition had been approved to a maximum of $356,050. But, while all the works noted in the plan total exactly that amount, Emergency Management BC (EMBC) states the district is only eligible for 80 per cent of the accepted claim that exceeds the first $1,000, meaning Sicamous will be receiving $284,040.
Perhaps a greater sore spot for council, however, is EMBC’s unwillingness to consider the $169,698 the district spent to provide potable water during the disaster to residents and tourists an eligible expense.
The letter states the region’s emergency program co-ordinator recalls previous flooding events where the province, through the Provincial Emergency Program, has supplied potable water to communities with similarly compromised water systems, yet EMBC has remained adamant in denying Sicamous all potable water costs.
“It is difficult to understand that if an earthquake in the Lower Mainland destroyed the domestic water systems for those cities, that the Province would not be involved in the acquisition, distribution and provision of water to our citizens,” the letter states.
Sicamous Mayor Darrell Trouton says that overall, Sicamous has done well in recouping costs related to the incidents of and following June 23. However, he feels the district’s case on potable water should not be dismissed.
“It’s a lot of money; we could use it elsewhere,” says Trouton. “We have contingencies set up for things like this so we can take the hit. Do we feel that we should take the hit or have to take that burden? I don’t think so. Is it our responsibility to have contingencies set up if we have to? Yes. But under the case of what happened here, why wouldn’t we be eligible for that under disaster financial assistance?”
Council agreed to send a letter to B.C. Justice Minister Suzanne Anton (who oversees EMBC), expressing concern with a perceived lack of ‘working together’ on this issue, and requesting that the ministry look into whether or not EMBC’s stance is appropriate.
Trouton says the goal isn’t to recoup 100 per cent of the costs, but for fairness and accountability guide decision-making.
“If you look at the fine print, it says ‘we’re not going to do this, we’re not going to do that,’ but I think that’s more the bureaucrats,” says Trouton. “And we have to get beyond that, keep fighting for our residents, to say, ‘listen, why is it up to us to pay for all of this when it was an emergency situation?’
“We’re continuously working at it. I’m a little discouraged with how long it’s taking but that’s what we do.”
As for Sicamous’ compromised water system, Trouton said the district continues to work with the B.C. government, engineers and consultants towards a proposed $4.5 million water treatment system. Two-thirds of the upgrade is being funded with provincial and federal funding, and the remainder by the district. Asked if he’s heard any frustration from the community – which remains on a water-quality advisory – over the amount of time it’s taking to replace the water system, Trouton said very little.
“I think people are understanding of it,” said Trouton. “It’s our job to help them understand that, listen, it’s not as easy at it sounds. We don’t just go and hire the first contractor available. There are many contractors sitting there going, well, just hire us and get it done. Well, I think it’s our responsibility to do it right for our taxpayers. If we went and did that and it wasn’t right, there would be a lot of backlash.”