'You guys are responsible': Anger, frustration in Westmeath at flood meeting

Whitewater Township residents packed a local rink Sunday to ask officials pointed questions about flood mitigation efforts, after record-setting Ottawa River levels devastated the eastern Ontario community this spring.

Nearly 200 residents turned out to Sunday's meeting

Water nearly submerged this sign in Westmeath, Ont., during the height of the spring flooding. On Sunday, people came out to voice their concerns about how public officials handled the flood. (Martin Weaver/CBC)

Whitewater Township residents packed a local rink Sunday to ask officials pointed questions about flood mitigation efforts, after record-setting Ottawa River levels devastated the eastern Ontario community this spring.

Sunday's meeting in Westmeath, Ont., was one of a handful of public forums on the 2019 floods held in the region this weekend.

Roughly 200 people who attended the meeting, which included local MPP John Yakabuski and officials with Ontario Power Generation and the Ottawa River Regulation Planning Board.

They shared their concerns about how the flooding was handled and asked difficult questions. Some even called for a public inquiry.

Whitewater Township is about 140 kilometres northwest of downtown Ottawa and includes nearly 90 kilometres of shoreline.

It was hit hard during the flooding, with Ottawa River levels there ultimately breaking records set all the way back in 1960.

"What have you been doing? And sure as hell, you guys are responsible, in my opinion," one man yelled as members of the panel were answering questions.

A home surrounded by what ended up being record-breaking water levels in Westmeath, Ont. in spring 2019. (Submitted by Michael Moore)

That was just one of several frustrated comments people expressed, with other concerns ranging from a perceived lack of communication to frustration over being unable to access help from the province.

"Our cottage is our retirement. It's our life savings," said Johanne Beaudry, whose cottage on Sunset Trail was listed for sale before the floodwaters began to rise.

"It sat for over a month in water. I mean, we can't sell it now."

Johanne Beaudry wants a buyout for her cottage on Sunset Trail in Whitewater Township. It was for sale before the flood but now needs to be gutted. (Kimberley Molina/CBC)

No buyouts yet

Beaudry said she attended the meeting to ask for assistance, as she's ineligible for provincial disaster recovery assistance since the program only covers primary residences.

She's been receiving help from Calgary-based charity Samaritan's Purse, but she's hoping for a buyout.

Yet buyouts aren't on the province's radar, according to Yakabuski, the MPP for Renfrew–Nipissing–Pembroke.

"That's not something that we're considering at this point," he said.

However, he said the Progressive Conservative government will push for an inquiry into how the Ottawa River was managed during the flood, something that would have to be done in conjunction with the Quebec and federal governments.

Yakabuski also said the province would be appointing a special advisor to examine river operations over the winter and spring.

Renfrew–Nipissing–Pembroke MPP John Yakabuski addresses questions about the province's flood response at a meeting in Westmeath, Ont., on June 23, 2019. (Kimberley Molina/CBC)

New reservoir

Residents at Sunday's meeting also called for river dredging — the removal of sediments or debris from a body of water — as well as building a floodgate or even a new reservoir to handle excess water.

Eric D'Aoust of Lapasse, Ont., raised those sorts of concerns at the meeting, and said he wants the province to take action.

D'Aoust said he wasn't as badly affected as some of his neighbours were — including his brother, who lives three doors down from him.

"We spent nine days in frigid water. We built a wall that was about five feet high," he said. "But it wasn't enough to save the house." 

Yakabuski said those three ideas would be considered to see what's feasible.

Other meetings were held this weekend in Pembroke, Arnprior, and the Township of Bonnechere Valley.


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