Residents divided on Fort McMurray flood mitigation plan

The Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo council’s decision to favour berms over buyouts for most flood-affected Fort McMurray neighbourhoods came as a shock to some residents and a relief to others. 

Louis Rondeau was watching council intently last week, waiting to see what would happen to his home in Ptarmigan Court.

Council decided to do more consultations with residents in the area, with administration updating council on progress in three months. 

“It’s a good thing they [council] couldn’t hear me,” said Rondeau. “The dog was hiding.”

“I wasn’t a happy camper and the language was colourful, to say the least.”

Rondeau pushed for a buyout, largely because he doesn’t think Ptarmigan Court can be easily protected by berms or other forms of flood mitigation. 

One of the things administration will be asking Ptarmigan Court residents about is the possibility of raising the homes to above the flood level of 250 metres. 

For Rondeau, that would mean raising his home about 1.5 metres. 

Rondeau was hoping to start negotiations on a buyout before winter, so he wouldn’t have to pay the $20,000 in damage that his home suffered during the spring flood. 

Rondeau said he feels like there has been more than enough community engagement. 

“We’ve been engaged for six months.”

Louis Rondeau was hoping for a quick decision and a buyout for his Ptarmigan Court home. (Jamie Malbeuf/CBC)

The Fort McMurray Chamber of Commerce spoke at the lengthy council meeting last week, saying it wouldn’t be good for local businesses if residents received buyouts.

Dianna de Sousa, executive director of the Fort McMurray Chamber of Commerce, said buyouts could lead to many people leaving the community and it should only be used as a last resort. 

“We support keeping the community whole,” said de Sousa. “We would like to keep the residents and keep people in the community.”

The chamber was encouraging councillors to choose flood mitigation over buyouts. But de Sousa said the chamber understands that in some situations buyouts may be necessary. 

“At the end of the day, our position is not to leave people in an impossible situation,” said de Sousa. 

Leon Huppie, a homeowner in Waterways since 1982, said he didn’t want a buyout, and it was a relief to find out his neighbourhood wouldn’t be offered one. 

His basement filled with about five feet of water, but he delayed repairing it because he didn’t want to repair a home he might be moving away from. 

“It’s a lot of ups and downs and wondering which way it was going to go,” said Huppie. 

Huppie said that if the municipality would have bought him out, he likely would’ve left town. 

“Waterways is quiet. I don’t think you could replace it.” 

Leon Huppie was relieved his neighbourhood wasn’t getting a buyout. (Jamie Malbeuf/CBC)

Chris Joyce, a downtown homeowner, said he was disappointed to find out he wouldn’t get a buyout, but he could understand why it wasn’t offered. 

His furnace, ducting, and gas lines were full of water after the flood. 

“My basement was full right to the top,” said Joyce. 

He had some insurance coverage, but not enough to cover all the damage. He’s had estimates between $90,000 to $140,000 to repair the damage, and that doesn’t include replacing the damaged contents.

Joyce was in the middle of selling his home when the flood hit, and he recently retired. 

“I don’t know how we’re going to be able to sell our homes, if anybody is even interested in moving into the area,” said Joyce. 

The municipality is now doing one-on-one interviews with homeowners in Ptarmigan Court and Draper to see how they want to handle flood mitigation. 

Administration will bring an update to council in three months.

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