Flooding strategy a starting point

The province brought its dog and pony show to Minden this past Monday. Local, and other media, were informed sometime Friday night that their presence was requested since Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry, John Yakabuski, was coming to town. He would be joined by Minister of Infrastructure Laurie Scott for ‘a flooding preparedness announcement.’

So, we all gathered – Kawartha 411 was there as was Global News – as a podium and speakers were set up in front of a very low Gull River near the pedestrian bridge to the Riverwalk. The government brought its own camera crew so it could broadcast the announcement. Mayor Brent Devolin was there along with most of his council. MPP Jamie Schmale was present.

At least one councilor from another municipality, Algonquin Highlands Mayor Carol Moffatt, who also sits on County council, publicly commented that it would have been a courtesy to extend the invite to other municipal officials, who apparently knew nothing of the announcement.

Yakabuski took up his place and unveiled Ontario’s Flooding Strategy, obviously skimming the highlights since the documents handed to media were in the 44-page range. It would have been nice to have received them beforehand, not when arriving at the event, since it was hard to ask direct questions about the plan when we’d only just received it. I

t was interesting that Yakabuski talked a lot about partnerships … the need for federal, provincial and municipal governments to work together, along with conservation authorities, Indigenous communities and industry. As the press conference unfolded, he seemed to slip back into old silos, though.

For example, Yakabuski did not provide answers to any of The Highlander’s questions. We asked him to comment on the fact local municipal politicians aren’t happy with the creation of a new Muskoka Watershed Advisory Group (MWAG), and the province providing it with $5 million in 2018 to work on watershed management in that area.

They have expressed further concern after learning MWAG input would help guide watershed management across the province. Moffatt has publicly said Haliburton County and its partners have already worked extensively on improving area watershed management over the past 10 years. “It seems odd that we – and our many partners, have no knowledge of the ministry’s work on a broader, comprehensive approach,” Moffatt wrote in a letter to Minister of Environment, Conservation and Parks Jeff Yurek. “We’d be most pleased to offer our knowledge.” Moffatt’s letter also took issue with the MWAG not consulting beyond the Muskoka watershed and made mention of the $960,000 Haliburton is seeking for its own watershed work. Yakabuski deflected The Highlander’s question, though, saying we should reach out to Yurek’s ministry.

We then asked about the broader issue of climate change as it relates to flooding, specifically asking about how the new penalties for polluters initiative is going – since seemingly that would put money into flooding strategy coffers. Again, Yakabuski deflected, saying we had to talk to Yurek’s people.

When another member of the local media pointed out there appeared to be no new funding in the flooding strategy, Yakabuski cut him off, asking to be allowed to finish his own statement.

I eventually got around to reading the 44 pages. As an overarching policy statement, it’s a good start. There are a lot of references to “evaluating” and “exploring.” There is a lot of emphasis on the province’s partners doing certain things. There is some sound theory, such as the need for better flood mapping.

Where it will get tricky is where the rubber hits the road. For instance, the province wants municipalities to steer developers from floodplains. Makes perfect sense for new development. But what of existing development? Is Minden Hills supposed to expropriate land that has flooded in the past, for example, along Anson Street. How would that look and who would pay for it?

Clearly, the province still has a lot of work to do on this portfolio but at least they’ve got a roadmap going forward.

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