Abbotsford Mayor Henry Braun says he is continuing to press senior levels of government for “extensive financial help” to upgrade the city’s flood-prevention infrastructure.
In a letter on Tuesday (Feb. 1) to local residents, Braun said he has also been consulting with government leaders in Washington State to discuss “priorities and opportunities” related to flood prevention.
The discussions follow the catastrophic flooding that hit the area – mainly on Sumas Prairie – in mid-November, when there were breaches in the Sumas diking system, compounded by the Nooksack River in Washington State overtopping its banks and flowing north across the border.
Braun said repairs have been needed to 300 individual sites damaged in the flooding and by 16 landslides. Of those sites, 130 have been fully repaired or have temporary measures in place.
He said other repair projects include rebuilding bridges; replacing 1,000 metres of water main; fixing roads, parks and trails; and managing debris.
Braun, who previously estimated the city’s damage at more than $1 billion, said he has spoken with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, B.C. Premier John Horgan and Deputy Premier Mike Farnworth about the city’s needs and “impressing on seniors levels of government just how much help is needed.”
“Last year’s flooding disaster highlighted the importance of senior levels of government making long-term investments in renewing the infrastructure that’s already in our communities,” he said.
Braun said he has also written letters to Trudeau and Horgan to reiterate the pleas for help, and continues to have discussions with government ministers, MLAs and MPs.
He said he will continue to work with the BC Urban Mayors’ Caucus to push for change in how municipalities receive funding.
“Municipalities are just not set up to meet the financial requirements to support infrastructure needs our communities have and we need a new fiscal framework,” he said.
Braun said that after his meeting in Washington State, there were some news stories about Whatcom County’s flood hazard reduction programs and the potential impacts on Abbotsford. (The Abbotsford News did not publish any articles on the topic.)
Those reports suggested that officials in Whatcom County were considering a plan to buy homes in areas at risk of flooding in Washington State and create a floodplain that would help direct the water from the Nooksack River to Sumas Prairie.
But Whatcom County executive Satpal Sidhu issued a statement, indicating there were some “significant inaccuracies” in those stories and that there is no plan to construct a new flood channel.
Braun said, in his letter to residents, that as governments in both countries look for solutions, “what’s clear is that there is no easy or quick fix.”
Braun also addressed the class-action lawsuit filed by residents of Sumas Prairie to recoup costs from the damage incurred in the flooding.
He said he had been meeting one on one with farmers in the area, but has since been advised not to do so until the lawsuit is resolved. However, Braun said he continues to read emails and social media on the topic, and many of the stories are “heart-wrenching” and weigh on him.
“I know many individuals are frustrated with getting disaster funding assistance. You need help and want to know what’s happening so you can move forward and rebuild as you see fit and you are disappointed that you have not received funding yet,” he said.
“I empathize with this and also recognizing that with such a major disaster impacting a number of B.C. communities, this takes time for this provincial government service to assess and provide support.”
Braun said the city formed a recovery team in December to develop both a short- and long-term strategy for rebuilding the city “even better than it was before.”
“While you may not see my face in front of a camera each day, I want Abbotsford residents to know, our work at the City of Abbotsford still continues, I hear you and I will continue to advocate on your behalf,” he said.