CSRD board pans flood response ‘downloading’

They say yes, but we say no. That is the reaction Columbia Shuswap Regional District board members had

Rhona Martin

Rhona Martin

They say yes, but we say no.

That is the reaction Columbia Shuswap Regional District board members had to a provincial discussion paper that proposes to download flood response to regional districts.

The regional district agreed with some housekeeping items contained in an emergency management report but called foul on the province putting local authorities in charge of emergencies such as floods.

CSRD received the paper on Jan. 19 and, with a one-month consultation period, worked with its solicitor, other local governments and the Union of British Columbia Municipalities to draft a response.

“In situations of wildfire, the province is quick to take on the role of site command and liaise with the Emergency Operations Centre and provide necessary support to their field operations in order to protect trees and property,” wrote CSRD operations manager Darcy Mooney in his report to the board, noting somehow the province believes local authorities know better in the case of floods, even those that take place in remote areas.

“There is a certain degree of irony with this as typically floods and debris flows impact critical provincial assets such as provincially owned roads and bridges.”

CSRD, he added, has no technical expertise, operational equipment, jurisdiction or funding mechanism to support assessing or responding to such emergencies.

“The  province has no trouble in responding to wildfires and we figure they should have the same level of support for flooding,” he said, noting the province has extended the response deadline to April 19.

CSRD chief administrative officer Charles Hamilton told directors there is an important distinction to be made between municipalities and regional districts – municipalities have a responsibility for water courses within their jurisdictions.

“The code here is they want to get out of the flood business – ‘we don’t want it, you have it,’” Hamilton said. “Rivers run through Crown land and they have the benefits of that until something happens and then they want us to deal with it.”

Board chair and Rural Sicamous director Rhona Martin was equally adamant that the province should not be downloading flood management responsibilities onto the regional district.

“If you leave any Shuswap municipality and drive 10 minutes, how many water bodies are you going to drive by,” she said. “We have had disasters that we would have been bankrupt if we’d had to deal with them.”

Hamilton convinced directors to defer writing a letter until the matter is brought forward at the March 18 board meeting in Salmon Arm.

“We’ve had this debate before and met with the solicitor general,” he said, noting the regional district has no service or infrastructure to deal with floods.

“These are mid-level staff telling us we’re responsible; they have a hidden agenda,” added Mooney, noting CSRD staff worked their way up the provincial government ladder as far as the deputy solicitor general and nobody could show where in the legislation regional districts are responsible for flooding. “We’re not set up like a municipality; we don’t have a works department –most regional districts in the province don’t have that – nor do we have the technical expertise.”