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Council approves payout to Timberlea flood victims

Fort McMurray, AB, Canada / MIX 103.7
Council listens to an administration presentation finding no legal liability for 2015 Timberlea flood on April 26, 2016 // Chris Vandenbreekel - Harvard Broadcasting

Council listens to an administration presentation finding no legal liability for 2015 Timberlea flood on April 26, 2016 // Chris Vandenbreekel – Harvard Broadcasting

“It’s a humongous relief.”

That was the response from Timberlea house-owner Michelle Fetter after council unanimously approved a motion that will provide financial compensation for those affected by the July 12, 2015 flood and sewage backup.

Fetter was one of several members of the public who asked council to oppose administration’s recommendation to provide no financial assistance, since the RMWB was not legally liable. She tearfully recounted the loss of personal items, including childhood mementos and writings from her grandparents, while telling council that she and other residents now fear spring and summer due to the possibility of more flooding.

Shortly after Fetter’s delegation to council, Ward 1 representative Tyran Ault put an alternate motion on the floor to provide compensation for the homeowners. He said that even if there was no legal obligation, council had a moral duty to help.

“It’s our job to look at all of the factors,” he said. “You have to look at that moral liability.”

Administration had argued that due to the intense rainfall on July 12, labeled a “one in one-hundred year storm” by Engineering Director Ray Cruickshank, would have overwhelmed the existing sewage and stormwater system regardless of any municipal actions. Some have blamed construction on the sewage system in the Brett Drive area for the backup and flooding. Administration did admit that the construction, which included stormwater management meant to with stand a “one in five year storm,” accelerated and prolonged the flooding.

Chief Legislative Officer David Leflar told council that due to the fact that the temporary stormwater management system was up to normal standards, combined with evidence that the system would have been overloaded anyways, meant there was no legal liability on the part of the municipality.

But Councillor Ault and several of his colleagues suggested that since the RMWB knew about the sewage system issues in 2010 and didn’t complete the work in a timely fashion, there was some blame to be laid at their feet.

“If we would have acted sooner, this probably wouldn’t have happened last year,” Ault said. “This is us helping residents who have suffered probably because we didn’t act sooner.”

Councillor Allan Vinni raised concerns that approving funding for this disaster would open “pandora’s box,” allowing anyone who has experienced hardship in the region to make a claim for relief. He ultimately proposed an amendment to Ault’s motion, ensuring it was phrased as a one-off fund for the victims of the Timberlea flood.

“Life is full of stuff you just can’t control,” he said.

The funding will total $3.3 million, to be divided among the homeowners who have made claims of damage from the July 12 rainfall. Fetter says it will ease a lot of residents’ burdens.

“It’s going to help a lot of people out,” she said. “Especially the ones who don’t have insurance or didn’t have enough.”

Other Business

Council also voted 8-2 to cancel a planned two-day governance training session, after administration recommended that the benefits wouldn’t be fully realized due to two-thirds of the current council term having already passed. Councillors Tatum and Stroud voted against cancelling, with Tatum saying not going forward with the session would suggest their decisions for the rest of term aren’t important.

A vote to conduct a review of councillor compensation also narrowly passed by a vote of 6-4. Councillors Meagher, Ault, McGrath, and Vinni were against. McGrath lamented the plan to hire an outside expert at the cost of the taxpayer, while Vinni suggested councillors shouldn’t be worried about compensation as they should be in the job for the purpose of public service.

A new ribbon-cutting/groundbreaking ceremony policy was also passed unanimously. The policy aims to ban the mayor and councillors from engaging in ceremonies from nomination day to a month after any election, while also ensuring that ceremonies only take place when projects are ready to be mobilized.

Notes: Councillor Bussieres was away due to travel… A motion to appoint two council members to the WBHDC was struck due to the realization the appointments weren’t necessary…

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