Skip to content

‘Completely abandoned’: 3 B.C. mayors react after federal flood funds denied

Flood-mitigation applications rejected for Abbotsford, Merritt and Princeton

The mayors of three B.C. cities say they feel abandoned by the federal government after being turned down for millions of dollars in flood infrastructure funding.

Ross Siemens of Abbotsford, Micheal Goetz of Merritt and Spencer Coyne of Princeton delivered some critical words during a press conference in Abbotsford on Monday afternoon (June 3).

The three said their cities had each presented applications of more than 500 pages to the Disaster Mitigation and Adaptation Fund (DMAF) for rebuilding dikes and other key infrastructure damaged in the November 2021 floods and for providing future protection.

Goetz said they each received “a one-line letter” in response from the federal government that said their application didn’t provide enough of the information they required.

“Not sure what the 500 pages did not cover for you,” he said.

Siemens said the flood was “the most expensive natural disaster in Canadian history” and wondered if it doesn’t qualify for federal support, then what does.

RELATED: B.C.’s flood strategy not ‘perfect’ but a ‘pretty good’ start: insurance analyst

RELATED: 49 B.C. communities receive funds for projects to curb climate-change disasters

“For the first time, we witnessed a nine-day closure of a key transportation corridor through the Fraser Valley. Across southwest B.C., rail lines were disrupted. Major highways were closed, some for several months,” Siemens said.

“…This resulted in severe disruptions to the Asia Pacific Gateway supply chain, closed the U.S.-Canada border and devastated businesses, farms and residents.”

Siemens said the cities were encouraged to apply for the federal funding by the provincial government. He said they were told that if the province was on board, they would likely get the DMAF money.

He said the city felt “completely abandoned” when they learned their DMAF application had been rejected.

“That is brutally devastating news and shows a blatant disregard for our city, our region, our economy and, quite frankly, a disrespect for the fairness of due process when no community impacted by the 2021 event has been successful,” he said.

Goetz said the dikes in Merritt right now look exactly the same as they did in October 2021 and he worries about protecting the people in his community from future events.

He said his own home was flooded and he was unable to return for 12 months.

“It’s unacceptable for my citizens to have to go through life like this … To be rejected like this, with very little explanation of why it happened, is an absolute slap in the face of western civilization. I have to wonder if this would happen if it were on the East Coast,” Goetz said.

Coyne said Princeton still has temporary dikes in place and was depending on the DMAF money to replace them.

He said he feels the community has done everything asked of it to try to secure the federal funding and feels let down by the government.

“It’s time that Ottawa steps up and realizes the we’re not just some backwoods place. We are taxpaying citizens, we’re a part of this economy, and we deserve better,” Coyne said.

Henry Braun, who was Abbotsford mayor at the time of the floods, also spoke at the press conference, saying he is “extremely disappointed” that the three communities have been denied the DMAF funding.

“Prime Minister Trudeau came to Abbotsford during the height of the disaster and saw the devastation firsthand. While he was here, he promised me and the staff working in the emergency operation centre and Abbotsford residents that we could count on his government to support us,” he said.

Braun said he was “flabbergasted” to learn that the funding applications had been turned down.

The mayors said they have so far been unsuccessful in receiving more-detailed information about why their applications were denied.

Goetz said he at one point had a radio-show conversation with Bill Blair, the former federal emergency preparedness minister (now national defence minister).

“He suggested we go after commercial people to fund us. So I was going to whistle right up to Walmart and see if they wanted to fund 200 feet of dike and we could put all those little smiley faces over it. This is not how you run a country,” he said.

Coyne said among the projects that Princeton hoped to have covered through the DMAF money was 1.6 kilometres of diking that needs to be upgraded and its main sewer lift station that has to be moved.

The community has applied for a total of around $55 million in government funding.

Goetz said Merritt has applied for approximately in $64 million, mainly for diking additions and improvements.

“We have 21 properties that have to be bought out because we can’t build dikes on land that we do not own,” he said. “ … Diking is the most important thing. It is what will bring safety back to our community.”

Siemens said Abbotsford has applied for approximately $1.6 billion in government funding, and the city was hoping to use the DMAF funding for projects such as flood storage and a conveyance pump system at the Barrowtown pump station.

The three mayors, along with industry and business leaders, said they are calling on the federal government to change the way it funds disaster recovery and prevention.

Black Press Media has reached out to the Office of the Prime Minister for comment, but has not yet received a response.

RELATED: PM Justin Trudeau lands in Abbotsford to tour flooded areas

Princeton Mayor Spencer Coyne speaks Monday (June 3) at a press conference at the Clarion Hotel and Conference Centre in Abbotsford as Abbotsford Mayor Ross Siemens looks on. (Ryleigh Mulvihill/Abbotsford News)
Merritt Mayor Michael Goetz speaks Monday (June 3) at a press conference at the Clarion Hotel and Conference Centre in Abbotsford as Abbotsford Mayor Ross Siemens looks on. (Ryleigh Mulvihill/Abbotsford News)

Vikki Hopes

About the Author: Vikki Hopes

I have been a journalist for almost 40 years, and have been at the Abbotsford News since 1991.
Read more