The District of Vanderhoof has declined to participate in a flood mitigation program to build a berm west of Sandy Beach Road despite flooding concerns from landowners.
“It’s too cost-prohibitive and we are extending the grant money back,” Evan Parliament, District of Vanderhoof chief administrative officer, said.
In 2007, an unpredicted flood carried nearly three feet of water from the Nechako River onto properties west of the river by Sandy Beach Road. A temporary dike was created so water didn’t start to flow into the downtown core. Although the runoff that year was particularly high, the urgency for a permanent flood mitigation plan was initiated.
In 2013, the federal and provincial governments committed $768,000, representing two-thirds of the $1.1 million needed to build a flood-mitigation berm near Sandy Beach Road. Although the District of Vanderhoof (DOV) was ready to commit the remaining $384,000, the deal meant the DOV would have to purchase the land the berm would cover stretching over four properties.
However, negotiations between the landowners, the DOV and the province fell apart after the province’s proposed alignment of the berm.
“The only berm the province agreed to would have my home on the wrong side,” Ron Ephrom, one of the landowners said.
Ephrom, the only landowner living on the land in question, said there is an alternative.
“There’s a natural brim that could easily be improved on close to the river but the province wouldn’t allow it.”
The DOV asked for an extension on the berm’s application deadline so they could negotiate a location but were unsuccessful in getting the extension approved.
“We asked for the berm to be realigned and that was denied … to build the berm we would have to start construction this spring/summer but we didn’t even have the land yet. Since [the deadline] was not extended we didn’t have time, so we opted out of the program altogether,” Parliament said.
The berm application can be submitted annually but concerns of landowners remain with the possible flooding expected for this spring.
“We, as landowners, have invested in our property because we want to develop it into subdivisions. All we want is to protect our investment and the land value,” Ephrom said.
The proposed alignment of the berm was signed off by Lyle Larsen, deputy inspector of dikes with the Ministry of Forests Lands and Natural Resources, who said the idea is to prevent any further development in a high-risk flood area.
“Vanderhoof is built in a low-lying floodplain and the Sandy Beach area is very low-lying. When water levels come up to near-bank flow, water infiltrates the ground. If the berm is placed too close to the river bank it will constrict the flow of the river,” he said.
Larsen also said there is already development along the left and right sides of the river (Reid Drive and Riverview Drive) upstream of the four properties that are of concern.
“Say the riverbanks get too developed on both sides for too long of a distance, that creates a problem. It restricts the flow and causes higher flood levels upstream. Vanderhoof also has the additional problem of porous ground. When water levels start rising you get the infiltration so it’s better not to develop in those areas and have a setback berm in place so you keep the floodplain area wide as possible,” he said.
However, Larsen’s analysis of the situation doesn’t sit well with current property owners.
“So why are we being told it’s a development property if we will never get to develop,” Ephrom said.
Landowner Laure Hartwig-Clay moved to Prince George three years ago but still owns the 12-acre property adjacent to the Water View subdivision. She feels the District of Vanderhoof could have been more up front about their flood mitigation plans.
“The property is absolutely gorgeous and when we bought in 2007 we planned to make it into a horse farm. We found out later on we couldn’t because the future plan for Vanderhoof was to subdivide it [for housing development]. So we invested a lot of money doing surveys and sorting through the steps to develop it but it seemed the DOV blocked us at every stage. The town knew about this potential berm they wanted two years ago and we weren’t contacted about it until the meeting in January 2015,” she said.
During that meeting the DOV asked Hartwig-Clay is she would like to fully relinquish her land for the purpose of protecting the town.
Without the property owners handing over their land it would likely cost the DOV more than $1 million to buy the properties outright.
“They asked us to give all our land. Who can afford to do that?
“We have $200,000 in property. We tried to work with them to help protect the town and still use our property but if they want to flood the whole thing they should compensate [us]. We were happy to give a piece of property for free but not the whole thing,” she said, adding she is still in support of flood mitigation. “The rest of us haven’t actually built on our property so we don’t have as much of a risk in a flood situation, unlike Ron [Ephrom] whose homestead is on the property … there just has to be another option … it all seems so extreme and unnecessary.”
Parliament said they never asked for all their land to be donated, only a 10-metre statutory right-of-way so the DOV could build the berm.
“Landowners can grant the DOV statutory right-of-way free of charge but they chose not to because it devalues their land and we respect that … because we couldn’t get the 10-metre strips, the only other option was to buy the entire parcel and adding up all four would exceed a million dollars. That is why we opted out of the program, the cost of land would exceed the cost of the berm,” Parliament said, who added the DOV will continue to monitor the river to ensure, in the meantime, there is not a repeat of the 2007 flooding.