High River homes sacrificed during flood, says official in video
Berms built to help drain the town held water in the community for weeks, destroying many homes
The neighbourhood of Hampton Hills was sacrificed to help drain the rest of High River when floodwaters devastated the town last month, according to a video obtained by CBC News from inside a private meeting held last Friday for affected residents.
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"We had to sacrifice your area to try and get the other ones de-watered," Darwin Durnie, who was hired by the province to manage emergency flood operations in High River, said to the gathered crowd.
Residents responded with cheers, saying they were thankful that someone finally told them what happened to their community, which is not located in a floodway or flood fringe area.
Officials said water should have never reached the area, located on the east side of High River — and yet it was arguably the hardest hit neighbourhood in southern Alberta.
The homes there were under water for more than three weeks, and many still remain in ruins.
Roughly 27 families were at the private meeting to find out more about the berms that were built around their community and how their community was affected by the decision to place them there.
Berms built to control floodwaters
In the early stages of the flooding in High River, officials decided to hastily build two berms in the area to help control the water.
Those two berms were built on Highway 543 and Second Avenue.
Albert Flootman, High River’s director of engineering, said at a press conference today that the decision on where to build berms was made because of the location and depth of the floodwaters.
He said Hampton Hills happens to be beside the Little Bow diversion canal.
"The initial thought was to build a berm north of the residential area to segregrate the residential from the farm land to the north so that pumping could happen more readily, just to speed up the process," he said.
"However, the water in this area was over 12 feet deep at that point, maybe as much as 20, and it wasn't possible to build a berm in that area to segregrate the area. So, a choice was made in the field to use Second Avenue to start building the berm."
'It was simply the obvious choice'
He said billions of gallons of floodwater was then pumped out of Hampton Hills, which has a lower elevation than surrounding neighbourhoods, into nearby storm ponds and the river diversion canal.
Floodwaters from the nearby community of Sunrise was also pumped into Hampton Hills because it had nowhere else to go, said Flootman.
"The construction of these berms was to segregrate the different areas to enable the pumping of the residential areas more quickly," he said.
"It was simply the obvious choice."
The mayor of High River has not returned calls from CBC News and Rick Fraser, the minister in charge of flood recovery for the area, declined to comment on the issue.
The confusion has created a sense of frustration for residents in Hampton Hills, many who say they want the government to buy them out so they can move from the flood-damaged neighbourhood.
Some residents protested outside of Premier Alison Redford's Calgary office Monday to demand more compensation.
Inquiry needed, says area MLA
Wildrose Party Leader Danielle Smith, the local MLA for the area, says she would like to see a public inquiry into the issue.
"This is a community that was never supposed to flood," she said.
Town hall meetingWildrose Party Leader Danielle Smith will be holding a town hall meeting in High River at the rodeo grounds grandstand at 7 p.m. on Wednesday.
Smith said residents have also been stopped from being able to do their own remediations, so not much has been accomplished almost 41 days after flooding devastated the community.
"These homes have been the worst hit — water up to the second level, they're infested with mould," she said.
"They’re homes, by and large, that young families are in. So, I’ve been sympathetic to the situation that they’re in because their damages were increased by some of the actions that government took, it appears, and I’ve been encouraging the minister to offer them the ability to relocate as they do with people in the floodways."
The floodway program allows people to get their home's equivalent value so they can move, and Smith says that’s what these residents are asking for. She said they want to restart their lives, and the government should look at them as a special case.