Fire-ravaged, flood-prone Fort McMurray community wants to rebuild despite risk
‘I hope I get to come back here because I grew up in Waterways,’ resident says
The fate of Fort McMurray's oldest community is on the block Tuesday night, as the municipality determines whether it's safe for residents to rebuild in Waterways, a flood-prone area ravaged by May's wildfire.
On Tuesday, Wood Buffalo municipal council will vote on a bylaw that allows residents to rebuild, but only if:
- An engineer or geoscientist with experience in flood-risk certifies the design,
- No habitable rooms are built below the 250-metre land contour mark, unless they meet the province's flood protection requirements.
"So with the trailer park all you have to do is put your trailers on pilings," said Dalueg, who owns a mobile home in Waterways. "You just raise the level of your trailer to the 250-metre mark."
What residents want
On Monday, the municipality released the results of a survey that indicated 68 per cent of Waterways residents want to rebuild as close as possible to what they had before the fire.
Jim Rogers, fondly called the unofficial mayor of Waterways, says there's too much history in the community to be abandoned.
"The people that lived here before were involved in trapping and (river) transportation," said Rogers, president of the Waterways Residents Association.
"The people that are here now are the people that came in to build and design and run the oilsands business."
The municipality proposes that residents rebuild in the community as long as the province approves its flood mitigation plan.
- MORE: Fire and flood: the challenges of rebuilding in Fort McMurray's most flood prone-neighbourhood
That flood plan would include a "demountable flood wall" — a temporary levee — which would protect the community from seasonal flooding and ice jams.
Over to the province
The province must first approve the plan as forthcoming regulations will prevent rebuilding on flood plains such as Waterways.
The municipality has also proposed alternatives to rebuilding in Waterways should the province reject the plan, which include land swaps inside and outside the community.
However, only 10 per cent of residents in the municipal survey favoured that idea while only 20 per cent preferred a buyout.
Rogers is suspicious of any plan that doesn't rebuild Waterways as a residential neighbourhood like it was before the fire.
With its close proximity to downtown Fort McMurray and Highway 63, Waterways is prime real estate, he says.
"If they brought this land up, they could turn this into a shopping centre or a multi-storey condo complex."