N.B. funds $3M to prevent future Perth-Andover flooding
Environment minister avoided questions about relocation of homes
The Alward goverment is promising close to $3 million to protect Perth-Andover from future flooding.
Environment Minister Bruce Fitch was in the community Thursday explaining how the money will be spent.
But the key question of relocation — on the minds of local residents — went unanswered.
About $1 million is going to go toward mitigating the flooding caused by two brooks, the Tibbitts and McLaughlin brooks, that flow into the main river.
It will also be used to stabilize the north bank of the Tobique River and the east bank of the St. John River to reduce erosion and increase the stability.
A flood in March forced 500 of the village's 1,780 residents out of their homes and resulted in about $25 million in damage.
"The measures ... are a first step in our overall mitigation plan to reduce the impact of future events, before they occur, to protect lives, property, the environment and economy," Fitch said in a statement.
Another portion of the money will go to an improved flood warning system that will be able to monitor the river levels in real time.
Most of the people who showed up to hear Fitch wanted to know about relocation of homes to higher ground.
"The flood is real for me every day, still," said Misty Smith. "It’s still a reality and it hasn’t gone away."
More than half a metre of water ended up flooding the bottom floor of her home. She wants her home moved to higher ground.
"I didn't choose to walk away from (my home), but now I want it safe," she said. "I want my life safe, I want myself safe and I want my community safe."
A report released two weeks ago suggested moving as many as 72 homes at a cost of about $8 million. The report concluded that some homes on the nearby Tobique First Nation may also require relocation at a cost of about $700,000.
"Certainly in looking at the future, how are we going to make sure we don’t find ourselves in the situation like this? I’m anxious to find the solution to that. Great work done by the committee — the reaction here today on some of the initial phases, we hope to be back here in the near future," Fitch said.
Al McPhail, spokesman for a flood victims committee, said the government's priorities are misguided.
"With $2.8 million we could have moved 28 to 30 homes up out of danger," he said. "That's all we've asked for since March."
Footing the bill
Fitch said if the province decides to move the homes, he's hoping the federal government will help pay the bill.
"We continue to work on that, to do some research, and hopefully we'll have an answer in the very near future," he said.
Fitch said repeatedly he hoped to have more news in the coming weeks.
Michael Walker lives in the nearby community of California Settlement. His home was not affected by the flood, but he said the government needs to protect Perth-Andover because of its role as a hub for the area.
"I want guarantees that next spring these people are safe," Walker said.
But Fitch admitted the work won't guarantee protection from another flood.
"There are no guarantees when it comes to mother nature," he said.
In April, the province asked a group representing Perth-Andover,the Tobique First Nation, NB Power and the government to examine what caused the flood and what could be done to help prevent similar floods in the future.
The report says road improvements should be made to improve access to the village and surrounding communities during a flood, including a new bridge across the St. John River that would cost at least $20 million.
Fitch said the provincial cabinet is still analyzing the report's findings.
"The decisions we are making will affect people from the area not only for today, next spring or next year, but for a lifetime," he said.
The government says nearly 200 claims for financial assistance have been processed and $5 million was paid out by the province in the weeks after the disaster.
Some people who showed up to hear Fitch said they hadn’t been told about this announcement, and said that’s why so few — about 12 — showed up, including people on the flood mitigation committee.
With files from CBC News