British Columbia

'We were shocked': Grand Forks residents brace for home buyouts at post-flood values

Residents of Grand Forks, B.C. learned their homes will be assessed at post-flood values last week when federal, provincial and city officials announced they were putting nearly $50 million toward flood recovery.

Residents weren't promised pre-flood values, but many are still disappointed

A combination of river water and sewage swamped the suburb of Ruckle in Grand Forks in May, 2018. A year later, many residents are upset that their homes are being evaluated for a buyout at what they are worth after the floods. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

A $50 million package, announced to help Grand Forks, B.C. recover from a devastating 2018 flood will include money to buy out homes that sit on a flood plain in the southern Interior city.

The recovery plan, announced by federal, provincial and city officials last week, will be used to reinforce 1,300 metres of a river bank and build dykes to prevent future flooding. It will also help purchase properties in flood-prone areas.

But some residents are upset to learn their properties will be assessed and purchased by the government for their worth after the floods hit.

"We were shocked," said Dave Soroka. He and his wife Nora live in Grand Forks' hard-hit North Ruckle neighbourhood and were forced out of their home for nearly two weeks after the floods.

"It's like a panic. There are people down here who have mortgages, $100,000 mortgage, for example. They're gonna get $40,000 for their home and property."

After the city of 4,000 people was ravaged by record floods in May of 2018, forcing many from their homes and closing businesses in the downtown area for a few weeks, the city applied to higher levels of government to help them purchase properties along the Kettle and Granby rivers so they can level them and return the land to a natural flood plain. 

The funding announcement is mainly welcome news for Grand Forks. Approximately 100 properties and another 23 partial properties are under consideration for a buy out in the North and South Ruckle neighbourhoods.

In May, 2018, Ruckle residents were allowed to return to their homes for a 12-hour window to clean up and gather some possessions after heavy flooding triggered an evacuation of the area. (Tina Lovgreen/CBC)

But many residents, like Soroka, were hoping for property buyouts pegged at pre-flood values.

The couple isn't panicking yet, but their property will most likely be bought out and demolished, so they will have to purchase a new home. 

If the aid is tied to their property assessments post-flood, their compensation will be significantly lower, he said.

"It means we're going to have to scrape up everything we've saved over the years and probably, we're going into retirement debt-free no longer," said Soroka.

"We're going to end up probably in debt another $50,000 or $100,000 just to find a place to buy."

Cost of pre-flood buyout

Mayor Brian Taylor estimates it would cost an additional $6 million to buy out the properties at their pre-flood values, a cost that he thinks would be too much for city taxpayers to absorb, he told Radio West host Sarah Penton. 

But Soroka thinks the province should pay. "We're not looking for reparation down here. This is expropriation. The city needs our properties so that they can execute this huge diking and flood prevention plan on into the next hundreds of years to protect the downtown core," said Soroka.

In a statement, Emergency Management B.C. said that the goal of the funding is to give people affected by floods the chance to rebuild homes and communities in Grand Forks.

"Risk mitigation is key. This is an opportunity to make sure that if an event of this magnitude were to occur again, it would not have the same outcomes for this region," the statement said.

Manitoba example

When Manitoba was hit by massive floods in 2009, homeowners in the north portion of Breezy Point were bought out at pre-flood values.

The Manitoba Emergency Measures Organization (EMO) told CBC in an email that it is rare for the province to buy out properties, but it has been done in the past.

"When it was done, it was based on a pre-flood assessed value," said the email.

In Grand Forks, the city tried to get homes assessed at pre-flood values, said Mayor Taylor, but there were no guarantees.

"I think that there was some confusion that people felt when we got the money that, that actually included a pre-flood evaluation of their property's worth," Taylor said.

With files from Sarah Penton and Radio West