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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