M.D. of Foothills orders family to remove berm protecting property from Highwood River flooding

A southern Alberta family has been ordered by the Municipal District of Foothills to halt work and remove a berm on their riverfront property they built to protect themselves from flood waters.

Acreage downriver from High River at risk of higher flood waters due to flood mitigation efforts

Sharon McCaughan said waters from the 2013 flood rose above her deck pictured in the background. Flood mitigation efforts put in place to protect areas around the town of High River will make flooding downriver, where she lives, even worse. (Terri Trembath/CBC)

A southern Alberta family has been ordered by the Municipal District of Foothills to halt work and remove a berm on their riverfront property they built to protect themselves from flood waters.

And, their flood fears are only being made worse by studies showing mitigation efforts put in place to protect the town of High River will see waters around their property rise even higher in a flood event.

Sharon McCaughan's Aldersyde home has been hit hard by floods twice in the past.

"When it's raining I have a hard time sleeping because I'm getting up in the middle of the night. I'm shining my flashlight out to and checking the river," she said.

In 2005, after their property was hit with more than two metres of water from the Highwood River, they built a two-metre-high berm. 

But it wasn't enough to protect them from the rising waters of the 2013 flood. The four metres of water that rose caused hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage to their property — which houses both their home and construction business. 

This aerial view of the McCaughan property shows the impact of the 2013 flood. (Submitted by Sharon McCaughan)

McCaughan said while waiting for flood compensation from the provincial government, they planned to add even more height, when they found out the flood mitigation efforts in High River could send another metre of water their way. 

The municipality served them with a stop-work order on Aug. 13, 2018.

The M.D. argued the berm encroaches on public land and they need a development permit to build it on the property. McCaughan said they did apply for the permit in April, but the process was taking too long and they feared their is property at risk. 

"We're trying to protect ourselves. This is our livelihood, I've got four kids and a business and our home and we're trying to protect ourselves because no one is helping us," she said.

'It's all so maddening'

McCaughan said they were given buyout offers that were too low to consider, and said it's difficult to find an acreage that will allow a residence and business on the property.

"This is our life and we can't afford to go anywhere else. And it's so maddening," she said.

The McCaughans have appealed the stop-work order and are rallying other property owners in the area to band together. 

They have also hired a lawyer who is planning to advocate for expropriation — where the government would be forced to buy their property, as they would buy land to build a highway, because their property will be affected by the flood mitigation efforts. 

"I don't know where we're going to go from here, if this doesn't come through, as my husband says, it's a death sentence, we're done," she said.

McCaughan said the M.D. has two weeks to decide what to do with their stop-work order. The McCaughans are hoping they will be given temporary permits to keep the dike in place. 

Municipal officials declined to comment on the situation until after a decision is made within the next two weeks.

With files from Terri Trembath


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