Brendale Square and Peters’ plaza to be part of flood mitigation discussions: Aitchison



Huntsville Councillor Jonathan Wiebe did not mince words at a special council meeting held on Tuesday, May 7. He wanted to know when council would tackle measures to mitigate future flooding.

“There’s obviously a big movement afoot in this country to say what we are going to be doing differently going forward. And we have obvious problems with some areas and flooding, are we going to have that discussion in terms of what the potential solutions could be or mitigation measures could be to help out in that regard?” he questioned.

Huntsville Mayor Scott Aitchison responded to Wiebe’s question by saying, “My thinking in this is that we need to look at our entire community through a different lens. We have hardened landscapes that never should’ve been hardened, that are swamps, and again, some of these things were done long before there was permission to be given, but we’ve permitted the construction—it has been the construction of homes and businesses in places that probably shouldn’t have happened.”

Aitchison also said the municipality needs to look at its own facilities and operations, including things like roads.

He used the example of South Drive. “When we rebuilt that, we raised it 18 inches and we thought ‘that’s great,'” but it was covered in two feet of water or more. “Perhaps we should take a look at all the assets that flooded and say OK, should South Drive actually be raised four feet. If we raised that four feet then there’s a whole neighbourhood that would’ve never been affected by this flood.”

He also said looking at flood elevation numbers and zoning is a discussion that must happen at the Town’s development services committee.

There are areas in our downtown core, specifically I’m thinking of Peters’ plaza and Brendale square that floods regularly, even if we don’t have a massive flood situation and I’ve been told over and over again that we can’t stop the flooding from occurring there, that what’s under the ground is as much of a problem as the level of the groundHuntsville Mayor Scott Aitchison

“And so we need to have a discussion about what the public role is in solving a problem that is largely private but also has a public component to it. And so we’ve certainly danced around the edges of the whole Peters’ plaza and Brendale Square property and I think it’s time to take a more serious look at that,” he added.

Aitchison said to that end he’s asked prominent members of the community who “have a good understanding of how these things work to take a closer look at this and bring some recommendations to council on what next steps would need to be taken so that we know what we’re dealing with before we can approach some kind of a solution there. So, I would like that conversation to happen in a very specific form that can include public engagement, as well. I don’t think that any of us are necessarily experts in any of this and so I don’t exactly know what form that should take but that’s kind of what I’m thinking and that’s kind of what I’m looking at.”

He asked councillors to give it some thought as to how discussions could move forward. “If it’s multiple forums, if it’s public engagement, I’m sure it’s going to be all those things but give that some thought and get back to me and we’ll have some more discussions about that,” he said, adding that he’s hoping to have some direction for staff for July’s council meeting. “Because we’ve had lots of floods, it happens all the time but this one was crazy and we didn’t expect it to be what it was. It was a different event… whether it’s completely climate change related or not, we cannot continue to just sort of clean up and think ‘ah, next time hopefully it won’t be as bad’. I think those days are done… so I hope to hear from all of you in the next several days.”

During a follow-up conversation with Doppler, Aitchison said he wants everything on the table. “If there are residential areas that just always flood and people want out, do we work with the province and the federal government to do things like what Quebec is doing, where… we’ll buy you out of your house and we’ll turn this into a natural area,” he said, adding the same could apply to commercial properties.

Conversations are expected to continue about flood mitigation and what to do about low-lying areas, and although the Mayor has indicated that he would be leading those conversations, it’s uncertain for how long.  Aitchison is vying to be the Conservative candidate for the upcoming federal election, and if successful in being elected as this area’s Member of Parliament, he would inevitably have to step down as Mayor.

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  1. ed gruscyk on

    Municipality should purchase those properties now that they market values are at their lowest. Engineer a flood mitigation area to allow water to collect there as required while maintaining a park surrounding the top. for citizens and tourists to enjoy.

    • Rob Millman on

      Ed, I tend to agree with all of your comments; save for low-balling the offering prices for these properties. In fairness, it is unlikely that the present owners were aware of the history of this area at the time of purchase. I am unaware if the sellers’ obligation of disclosure was in effect at the time.
      As for conscripting “those who have a good understanding of how these things work”, with respect, is somewhat disingenuous. The preponderance of those people are called “engineering consultants”; and they do not tend to come forward out of a sense of community spirit. Rather, they work for 250% of costs.

  2. Brian Dallier on

    Scott should realize what the property around Brendale square is like, I have been told years ago that whole property was a dumping ground for old vehicles in the one corner where the old A&P once operated.
    I have had friends that now are either old or passed away tell me stories of the difficulties they had when they built stores that are on the property. If you look at the current home hardware store for instance it will see front sidewalk in one corner has a chain connected to the sidewalk to the building. That chain was put in place so that the ground level when it went up and down did not Sink and seperate from the building. In addition if you go inside the building you’ll see how the floors are very uneven, and in one corner for the hydro you will see there are Rod’s for the wires to go up and down when the property shifted. In the front of the property where the new breweries being built that used to be the A&P Grocery store. I have have stories told to me about when they were putting pylons in the ground for stability that they could never keep up cuz I’m sinking into the ground so they had to weld the the large pieces of Steel together with Links of chain so they did not get lost before they could weld them together. If you could I have looked at the Street before they repaved if you would have seen a large crack running down the middle of John Street this is because the whole shelf sliding in the river. The developers know this whole area is unstable but in my mind they do not wish to lose the income that they produce for their own pockets instead of worrying about the Investments That Others have taken to build or open businesses on that property. So I think it is right for the government to step in and Buy the whole property and turn it into the Parklands like they have suggested for they will never ever stop mother nature from flooding that area. Still.the think about is the environment changing to we will never be able to correct the damage that has now been done due to climate change. The only thing we can do now is protect what we have left for future Generations.

  3. Dave Gibson on

    The science around flooding has been around for decades and it’s pretty clear. I’m surprised that council members don’t know it. Number one is, don’t destroy wetlands. Yet, didn’t council recently approve a mega-development for the wetland along the canal between Fairy and Penn lakes?
    Also high on the list are things such as retaining vegetative cover, especially trees, on the watershed. Yet I see developers bulldoze mature trees off entire subdivision sites to make it easier to cram in more houses. No parklands, no green belts. This, by the way, is the case in every new development I see in Huntsville.

    It is easy for Mr. Aitchison to blame past development practices for current problems but, it seems to me, we are still going full throttle down the same flooded road.

    I would add that, even when our official plan reflects sound practices, we don’t hesitate to change it in favour of a few more tax dollars.

    We all know what to do. We just lack the will to follow through.

  4. Jim Logagianes on

    The Ministry of Natural Resources owns and operates over 300 dams in Ontario. Many of those structures were constructed by the logging industry and no longer serve a useful function for flood control. The date, however, none have been decommissioned. The Finlayson and Distress dams are located on the Big East River just west of the Algonquin Park border. Both were originally constructed in the 1930s to serve the interests of the logging industry. Throughout the years, concrete in both structures has deteriorated and, if they were to remain in service, the dams would need major repairs. Engineering studies showed that the complete or partial removal would have no effect on either flood control or low flow augmentation. On this basis, studies were advanced leading to the decision to decommission both dams. This paper describes processes required for the decommissioning of a dam in Ontario, including the technical, economic, social, and environmental issues which must be addressed and accounted for as part of the decision making process.
    Who ever drafted this report lied in order to justify decommissioning both dams. Obviously this cost saving measure put in place by the province of Ontario has only made this situation worse for everyone below the Algonquin watershed. With all the political representation we have in Muskoka I have yet to hear any local politicians address this issue. Is the Province partly to blame for the flooding problems we are currently experiencing throughout Muskoka?

    • DOPPLER – on the Brendale flood plain.
      As a former Huntsville resident, the flood shows how little progress is made when town administrators choose to ignore mother nature. When I was a young teenager I used to walk from the west end where my parents lived to Fetterly Street where my sister lives. The entire area where the flood is was a Bullrush Swamp. Someone had, in those days already laid a wood board foot path across the bog.
      My parents eventually moved over to Chaffey Street and battled the pond in the next lot (former Church property) as every spring the pump would run steady.
      The Brewers Retail built behind Dads house. The builder evidently did his homework and built the building on piles, clear knowledge they understood it ‘was’ a swamp. They were trying to escape flooding at their old site. Curiously Canadian Tire followed them, again trying to escape flooding at the old site by moving closer to the river…
      It is easy to blame the Town of Huntsville but for many years no one would have had much overall say. The grade level was John St. Down past the Marina, Blackburn’s when I lived there. It was a huge improvement when the swamp was filled. The town had to have issued building permits as the situation unfolded demonstrating their consent but nobody read ;

      The Parable of the Wise and the Foolish Builders, Matthew (7:24–27) and Luke (6:46–49).

      Ken Bowd, formerly from Huntsville

      • Further to my comment,
        Is the pier for the rotating machinery on the old swing bridge impeding the flow?
        This would require a new bridge to correct but the Feds and Province might get involved.
        Is there Muskoka rock inhibiting escaping water in the river?
        Ken Bowdp

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