Financial aid for flooded cottages seen as 'subsidizing bad choices' by taxpayer federation

Cottagers whose properties were swamped by high water this spring will be able to apply for financial help from the province as they clean up the destruction.

Environment and Local Government Minister Andrew Harvey says this is last time aid will be offered

The province is offering up to $6,100 to recreational property owners whose property was damaged by flooding. (Shane Fowler/CBC)

Cottagers whose properties were swamped by high water this spring will be able to apply for financial help from the province as they clean up the destruction.

The Liberal government says the program will provide a maximum of $6,100 each to recreational property owners.

"We will make sure that land is restored to its natural state," Environment and Local Government Minister Andrew Harvey said at a news conference Wednesday to announce the aid package. 

Financial claims can be made for labour or contract cleanup costs, Harvey said. 

Lease-holders and people whose cottages floated away in the flood are also eligible to seek assistance, he said.

But this is the last flood where such help will be possible, he said, describing it as a one-time only program.

Cottage owners in the lower St. John River basin were among the hardest hit when the river spilled its banks from the Fredericton area to Saint John.

The flood waters in New Brunswick have cause extensive damage. Few of the camps and homes in Grand Lake are left standing. 0:53

Many cottages on Grand Lake and other lakes and rivers were heavily damaged, swept off their foundations or reduced to scattered bits of lumber. 

"We understand the hardship of all the property owners," Harvey said. "We felt it was important we provide some more assistance."

'Subsidizing bad choices'

Aaron Wudrick, federal director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, opposed the program, saying the government was "subsidizing bad choices." 

"When people buy a property that's in a flood-prone area, they need to be prepared to bear the risks," he said. "When governments come to bail them out by offering help after the fact, you're really just encouraging people, frankly, to rebuild in places where they may be at risk again in the future."

About 2,000 recreational properties were affected by flooding, according to the province. At a maximum payment of $6,100, that would mean a total cost of $12.2 million, but the provincial government isn't clear at the moment what the exact total will be.

Environment and Local Government Minister Andy Harvey announces new requirements for people applying for building permits near waterways. (CBC)

Environment and Local Government Minister Andy Harvey announced Wednesday there will be stricter requirements for people applying for watercourse and wetland alteration permits so they can build near rivers, streams and brooks.

Wudrick said recreational property owners should be required to have appropriate insurance in place to cover themselves against a disaster. He said the government is better off dealing with risk through insurance.

When the next natural disaster comes, he said government should consider financial aid for property owners based on "reasonable foreseeability."

'Better than nothing'

For Laura Lee and Ed Kenny, cottage owners on Grand Lake, the $6,100 is nice but they think it's probably not enough to cover the cleanup. 

"It's better than nothing," Ed Kenny said.

"It will help," said Laura Lee Kenny. "It might help get a vehicle in here and a cherry picker to break this apart, and help for the clean up. I don't even know what it will cost.

"Some people look at it that it's your cottage not your home. That is true, but it was our home seven months of the year. We spent every night here for those seven months. This was as important to us as our home is."

Laura Lee and Ed Kenny say the financial assistance is 'better than nothing.' (Catherine Harrop/CBC)

Their cottage was destroyed by water and wind, and they likely won't rebuild.

Don Renaud, whose home was flooded, said hopefully recreational owners will get more.

"Well, I think for something they're lucky they're getting something right now, because before that they were getting nothing," he said. "When it comes to the construction, some of them have to rebuild everything and it's their life out there. It's their little bit of paradise."

Cottage owner Amy Collette said it's not enough for people, like seniors, who are unable to handle the cleanup themselves.

"We're capable of being able to remove our own stuff," she said.

"For my parents, who are senior citizens, there is no way they could come up with the funds to do anything. They're living on a limited budget. And it's not just my parents; it's other people's parents living along the whole line."

Making a claim

Cottagers looking to make a claim for financial aid should call 1-888-298-8555 to register the damage and arrange for an adjuster from the Department of Justice and Public Safety to assess it.

This also helps the province identify where the help is needed. 

"The first step they have to do is call that number and the team will walk through the claim process," Harvey said.

Debris from destroyed or heavily damaged cottages was thrown ashore by waves at the longtime summer community at Robertson's Point, near Jemseg.

Property owners are encouraged to keep receipts and to document flood damage by taking photos.

The flood quickly overtook homes, businesses and recreational properties starting in late April. Cottagers were additionally affected by stiff winds and high waves that smashed windows and walls, sometimes with the help of floating  trees and debris from elsewhere. 

The province had already launched a financial aid program for people other than recreational property owners affected by the flooding — a program set by the federal government, which pays for about 90 per cent of its costs.

Premier Brian Gallant initially said that assistance would only be available for primary residences, small businesses and municipalities. But he later suggested help for seasonal and recreational property owners might be coming, saying they play a significant role in some local economies.

Cost of damage still unknown

New Brunswick EMO director Greg McCallum said Wednesday that people in flood-ravaged areas are assessing the damage that's been done and the total cost is not yet known.

About 1,800 people registered for disaster financial assistance, he said.

"To ensure property owners get the help they need we encourage them to register property damage with the disaster financial assistance program," he said. 

In order to make sure people get the help they need, the province will be hiring additional staff to assist with the administration of the program. 

The cost of the damage will be high, Gallant said earlier, since this has been the "largest, most impactful flood in the province's history."

In 2008, the flood caused more than $23 million in damage.

With files from Colin McPhail

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