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‘A slap in the face’: B.C. mayors decry being rejected for federal disaster relief

ABBOTSFORD, B.C. — The mayors of three British Columbia communities devastated by flooding in November 2021 are calling for changes in how the federal government dispenses disaster relief after their applications were denied.

The mayors of Merritt, Princeton and Abbotsford want the rejections reconsidered and say they received no details about why their requests to the Disaster Mitigation and Adaptation Fund failed, other than being told their lengthy applications were missing information.

Merritt Mayor Michael Goetz says his community is in desperate need of new dikes, and some areas are unprotected from future flooding.

He says the funding rejection is a “slap in the face” and he wonders if this would happen if their communities were in Eastern Canada.

Princeton Mayor Spencer Coyne says Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told the communities he had their backs but it no longer feels that way, with his community continuing to rely on temporary dikes.

A statement from Micaal Ahmed, communications manager for Infrastructure Minister Sean Fraser, says the fund has provided nearly $180 million for five major flood mitigation projects in B.C., including $7.3 million directed to Abbotsford.

It says Ottawa provided the province with $1.4 billion in federal cost-sharing for recovery from the 2021 floods.

“All projects submitted for funding under the (Disaster Mitigation and Adaptation Fund) are assessed on the information provided in the application, particularly when determining hazard risk, resilience, and return on investment,” the statement says.

“Infrastructure Canada communicates reasons for decisions directly to applicants, and always offers to answer any questions they might have.”

The 2021 flooding, the most costly weather event in provincial history, was triggered by a series of atmospheric rivers that brought days of drenching rain.

Five people were killed in a landslide; thousands were forced from their homes; farmland, buildings and homes were swamped; and the floodwaters tore out roads, bridges and other structures.

The mayors say smaller municipalities and communities do not always have the resources to make lengthy and costly applications as they compete for federal money.

Goetz and Coyne said their applications were 500 pages long.

“It’s absolutely ridiculous,” Abbotsford Mayor Ross Siemens said in a statement.

“The 2021 flood caused significant damage to our regional and provincial transportation infrastructure, property and businesses, and severely impacted agricultural production in the most productive area of Canada.

“For the first time in our history, we witnessed a nine-day closure of the key transportation corridor (the Trans-Canada Highway) through the Fraser Valley, which links Canada’s largest port with the Interior and Alberta, and yet through this competitive granting program, we did not make it on the list of federal priorities.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 3, 2024.

Ashley Joannou, The Canadian Press

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