Pierrefonds-Roxboro workers were ordered to destroy sandbags days before flooding
Borough Mayor Jim Beis says administrator who gave employees order claims it was 'poor decision'
Some blue collar workers with the borough of Pierrefonds-Roxboro were ordered to destroy sandbags earlier this week with heavy rains in the forecast and flooding a possibility.
Four employees who spoke with CBC anonymously because they feared repercussions at their jobs, said they were told to cut up sandbags at the borough's public works garage on Monday, despite the forecast.
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They claim they were told the bags were taking up too much space in the garage.
"It's unheard of," said one worker, who was part of the team ordered to cut up the bags. "[We were] saying it doesn't make any sense, it's not over yet. The water is still going to be rising, but we don't make the decisions …They told us to do it and the employees do what they're told."
The decision left the borough scrambling to replace the sandbags as flood waters rose overnight on Tuesday, said the workers. Another employee said the bags are usually kept until the middle of the summer, when flood season is over.
Emergency crews have had to evacuate dozens of homes in municipalities across the West Island due to heavy rain and flooding. Several streets and basements remain flooded in Pierrefonds-Roxboro.
A 'poor decision', but operations not affected, borough says
Jim Beis, the mayor of Pierrefonds-Roxboro, initially said on Wednesday that he was not aware of the workers' claims and promised to investigate the situation, which he called "unacceptable."
Later Wednesday, Beis said he learned a decision was made to cut up the sandbags because it was believed the borough didn't need so many given the fact municipal workers had already been out distributing them.
The borough has distributed thousands of sandbags to residents since the beginning of April, when heavy rainfall warnings first came into effect.
Beis said he believes thousands of sandbags were emptied, but that the borough still had 3,000 to 5,000 on hand.
He said the administrator who ordered employees to destroy the sandbags admits it was a "poor decision" but operations were not affected.
The mother of one Pierrefonds resident, Leslie Brown Burns, had a hard time understanding the move to destroy the extra sandbags.
"Especially if people are going to end up with such a great loss and a decision like that was made, I'm just very confused and upset about that," she said.
Another Pierrefonds resident, Wanda Latkowska, has lived on Noël Street for 28 years and said she's never seen flooding as bad as what transpired Wednesday. She's been bailing out her basement by hand with a bucket until she gets a sump pump installed.
She said this year, the sandbag walls installed by the borough were much shorter than in past years.
"Usually there are at least four or five layers," said Latkowska.
She said she saw what looked like workers removing bags from the wall on Monday, the same day the borough manager had ordered workers to destroy the bags in storage.
"Taking away sand bags like that? They should have waited for the whole spring as they have in years before. We haven't had this problem before," she said.
"Look at all the damaged it caused."
Several workers also questioned why the department didn't ask day shift workers to work overtime on Tuesday night, knowing there was the possibility of flooding.
They said that left six or seven night shift employees shouldering the burden alone.
"The evening shift finishes at midnight. I know that they stayed a couple of hours [on overtime], until I don't know what time. But I don't think anyone from the day shift was called in early or was called in last night," one employee said.
Another worker questioned whether the borough was trying to save money by not paying for overtime.
When asked about this, Beis said it was the first he had heard of these claims.
"We'll make sure we get to the bottom of it," he said.
With files from Sudha Krishnan and Kalina Laframboise