Com­mu­ni­ties wary of map­ping flood risks

The Hamilton Spectator - - CANADA & WORLD -

OT­TAWA — When mu­nic­i­pal of­fi­cials across Canada were told last year about new tools to help them map the risk of flooding in their com­mu­ni­ties, they im­me­di­ately raised red flags, sug­gest­ing they wanted no part of it over con­cerns about le­gal li­a­bil­ity and po­lit­i­cal back­lash.

De­tails con­tained in in­ter­nal gov­ern­ment re­ports echo a nar­ra­tive across the coun­try that show just how wary some civic lead­ers have been about map­ping — and pub­li­ciz­ing — flood risks in their com­mu­ni­ties.

As one mu­nic­i­pal of­fi­cial put it, they fear re­leas­ing the in­for­ma­tion would force them to use the Tim Hor­tons drive-up win­dow to avoid the ire of stand­ing in line in­side the res­tau­rant.

The stance has mys­ti­fied in­surance in­dus­try rep­re­sen­ta­tives and lo­cal lead­ers who have been push­ing mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties to use new map­ping tools to iden­tify risk areas and make that in­for­ma­tion public.

“The big busi­ness case for this is we can all pay a lot more for in­surance and ex­pe­ri­ence the dis­rup­tion, or we can in­vest in the in­fra­struc­ture and ex­pe­ri­ence less dis­rup­tion to the econ­omy and to fam­i­lies and lower in­surance pre­mi­ums,” said Ed­mon­ton Mayor Don Ive­son, head of FCM’s big city may­ors’ cau­cus. “We can learn from these dis­as­ters and ac­tu­ally model out where it would make sense to get ahead of the prob­lem.”

The ques­tions about what lo­cal of­fi­cials don’t know and why they don’t want to know it have been raised anew with floods over­whelm­ing Que­bec and On­tario com­mu­ni­ties.

The In­surance Bureau of Canada cre­ated a map­ping tool to fig­ure out where there the great­est risk of flooding was, ei­ther from ris­ing waters or over­whelm­ing rain­fall. A Cal­gary-based com­pany, Te­sera, is in the midst of prep­ping it for wider distri­bu­tion.

At a ses­sion on dis­as­ter-proof­ing com­mu­ni­ties at the Fed­er­a­tion of Cana­dian Mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties con­fer­ence last June, some del­e­gates ap­peared to want noth­ing to do with the map­ping tool.

A re­port from of­fi­cials at In­fra­struc­ture Canada said that a del­e­gate from one city wor­ried that map­ping flood risk could re­duce prop­erty val­ues in flood-prone areas where in­fra­struc­ture so­lu­tions weren’t fea­si­ble. An­other said lo­cal gov­ern­ments are re­luc­tant to map flood risks be­cause they could be li­able for dam­ages, “and they may not have the public or po­lit­i­cal sup­port for in­fra­struc­ture in­vest­ments,” the re­port said.

Craig Ste­wart, vice-pres­i­dent fed­eral af­fairs for the In­surance Bureau of Canada, said lo­cal lead­ers were con­cerned about re­leas­ing the maps pub­licly, fear­ing own­ers of high-risk homes would take out their anger on lo­cal of­fi­cials.

“It’s our opin­ion that peo­ple have a right to know their risk and in fact, Cana­di­ans should be ed­u­cated about flood risk so that they can make the right de­ci­sions on how to de­fend them­selves against it,” Ste­wart said.

JUSTIN TANG, THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

Par­lia­ment Hill and the Ot­tawa sky­line are seen above the tur­bu­lent, high waters of the Ot­tawa River on Tues­day.

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