BLOG | Floodway or fringe? High River neighbourhood divided

While the difference between floodway and flood fringe may seem negligible to many Albertans, for the residents of the High River neighbourhood of Wallaceville it means a world of difference.

Some Wallaceville homeowners and renters confused over differing designations

Jamie Kinghorn's rental property in the Wallaceville neighbourhood of High River is not in the province's floodway zone. In the background left-hand side you can see his garage roof nearly at ground level. (Angela Piovesana/CBC)

High River residents Angela Piovesana and Amanda Pawlitzki will be blogging over the summer about their experiences during and after the floods that hit southern Alberta.

They'll tell stories of the recovery through the eyes of people who live there.

While the difference between floodway and flood fringe may seem negligible to many Albertans, for the residents of the High River neighbourhood of Wallaceville it means a world of difference.

With the current provincial flood maps now in place, those whose homes are located in the floodway that are coded "red" know their fate.

The Finlay family home is classified as being in a floodway and will be bought out by the provincial government. (Angela Piovesana/CBC)

Farol Finlay's family home will be bought out by the province for the value of their most recent tax assessment. They have purchased a home in the northwest area of High River and moved in on the weekend.

For others, their future still hangs in the balance.

Dean Halifax’s home is literally half in the floodway and half in the flood fringe. He points to the window frame near the center of his home and explains that the portion on the right is in the floodway zone, while the rest of his home lies in the flood fringe.

When the provincial government officials tell us each situation is different, this is what they mean: they are not sure.

Dean and his wife Julianna are still waiting for the final word.

The homes on 1A Street are surrounded by security fencing because the properties are unstable. Some of the homes have literally been ripped apart, fallen into sinkholes and will be torn down.

This part of the neighbourhood would appear to be in a floodway, but it too is divided. Some homes have been marked as flood fringe, others floodway.

Jamie Kinghorn stopped to chat as I was taking these pictures. He has a house that is a rental property and is not in the floodway.

It isn’t covered by insurance because it was overland flooding and it isn’t covered by the province’s Disaster Recovery Program because it was a rental property and doesn’t meet the requirements.

Jamie Kinghorn's home, including his garage, is not covered by insurance because it's a rental property. It also isn’t covered by insurance because damage was due to overland flooding. (Angela Piovesana/CBC)

The house next to his has fallen into a large sinkhole. It is also classified flood fringe.

For the residents and property owners of 1A Street, it would be to their advantage that the floodway maps be revised prior to Nov. 30, the deadline to request a buyout from the province. 

If those homes are designated to be in a floodway, owners will receive a buyout and move on. If the designation remains in a flood fringe, they would be forced to rebuild, an outcome that is neither possible nor realistic.

Wallaceville residents Leah and Doug Grafton are well into the process of remediating their home and say it is moving forward at a solid pace.

But if their property is deemed to be in the floodway after the Nov. 30 deadline, their property would be virtually worthless if they decide to sell.

"This decision needs to happen now, not after Nov. 30 when a buyout is no longer a possibility," says Leah. 

She and Doug have been positive and chose to move forward despite the uncertainty hanging over them.

As she and I walked in the wooded area around the river and onto the pebbled beach near their property, Leah recalls happier times enjoying the nature that surrounds them.

"We don’t want to move, but we may not have a choice."

The house next to the Kinghorn's is falling into a sinkhole. Like the Kinghorn's, it is also on the province's fringe zone, instead of the floodway. (Angela Piovesana/CBC)