Local governments rely on province for funding, approvals for flood emergency response

Many tiers to flood response

Responding to flooding requires plenty of communication between local governments and the province to ensure taxpayers don’t end up on the hook for a large bill, according to regional district officials.

On Thursday, representatives from the Thompson-Nicola Regional District’s emergency operations centre provided electoral area directors with information about the EOC, along with an update on this year’s flooding situation.

The TNRD’s Jamie Vieira gave electoral area directors an overview of the EOC’s role, noting the TNRD’s emergency program has a “very limited budget." During an emergency, even though the TNRD is the response agency, the district needs to receive approval from the provincial government to ensure they will be reimbursed for their work.

“All the emergency response activities are funded by the province,” Vieira said.

“We need to be very careful to make sure we stay within their rules, or else we can be spending tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars that the province won’t reimburse us for, and then we need a mechanism to recover that through taxation.”

He said some flood protection measures, such as sand and sandbags, are known eligible expenses, but in other cases it isn’t quite as cut and dry whether the province would approve the expense.

Depending on the level of emergency around the province, Vieira said the B.C. government will typically send a written response to a local government request within 12 to 24 hours.

He said emergency in-stream work, such as work which recently happened in the Salmon River near a Westwold property, can be done by local governments under a state of local emergency, but work needs to be approved and funded by the province.

In Salmon River, crews removed a bridge and part of a barn to prevent the structures from being washed down the river, along with a large tree which had already been swept into the creek.

“The flood assessor went out there and recommended yes, emergency works are recommended, and that would be funded,” he said, adding this was about a 36 to 48 hour process.

Vieira said the province only approves such work if there’s an imminent threat to a structure or major infrastructure, noting erosion of property won’t get approved for emergency works.

Any in-stream work must be reported to the provincial and federal governments within 72 hours, and local governments could be liable for damage costs.

“This is an awkward and challenging scenario for us in the EOC, a small group of people here in this office trying to make these decisions,” Vieira said.

“That's why we have to rely on the provincial flood assessor to make a recommendation, because we are putting the organization at risk by making those decisions, and we have to stand by those decisions that we're making in the heat of the moment.”

Vieira said this spring, there is already a "fairly long list of communities" that have been impacted by flooding, including Westwold properties on Salmon River.

The Village of Cache Creek has been hit hard by floods, as well as with properties located east of the community along Back Valley Road.

Communities in the Lower Nicola, near 16 Mile and Highway 99, and in Sun Peaks have also been impacted by flooding.

Vieira said the EOC is keeping its eye on the weather, with some storms and rainfall predicted for the region early next week, which could impact water levels in creeks and rivers.

TNRD EOC officials emphasized they need to know something is happening in order to respond — even if they might not be able to help as much as a property owner would like — and encouraged regional district residents to reach out if they have flooding-related concerns.

Residents can call 250-377-7188 to reach the TNRD EOC if it’s activated. If the EOC isn’t activated, a 24 hour provincial emergency number can be reached at 1-800-663-3456.

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