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NDP calls on UCP to keep Fort McMurray funding promise

NDP calls on UCP to keep Fort McMurray funding promise
WATCH ABOVE: The opposition NDP is calling on the UCP to commit to fulfilling an promise provide disaster relief funding to Fort McMurray. Breanna Karstens-Smith reports.

The opposition NDP is calling on the UCP to commit to fulfilling an assurance made in 2016 to provide disaster relief funding to Fort McMurray.

The promise was made in the fall of 2016 following the devastating Fort McMurray wildfire that saw more than 2,500 buildings destroyed.

Waterways, a neighbourhood in the lower townsite of Fort McMurray, was hit especially hard, with 90 per cent of homes damaged.

There were debates on whether or not to rebuild on the land, which is a floodway.

In a letter to Melissa Blake, the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo Mayor at the time, a letter from the NDP government stated, “at this time, there are no provincially legislated restrictions that would prevent rebuilding in the area.”

Fort McMurray beings to clean up as flood waters recede
Fort McMurray beings to clean up as flood waters recede

The letter was signed by Danielle Larivee, Municipal Affairs Minister at the time and Shannon Phillips, Minister of Environment and Parks at the time.

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READ MORE: Fort McMurray resident flees flood by boat: ‘It brought back all those wildfire memories’

The ministers wrote that the exemption allowing development on the floodway was provided as long as flood-mitigation measures were put in place.

Work on a lengthy berm started soon after.

In an question and answer session on Facebook on Monday, Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo Deputy Chief Administration Officer Matthew Hough said that work would be half completed by the end of 2020.

“The berms are being built at the one in one hundred level plus an additional freeboard to ensure that any event, like the one that we just witnessed, would be able to be resisted,” explained Hough.

Further down in the letter, Phillips and Larivee wrote: “At the present time, the Disaster Recovery Program (DRP) is available to the RMWB and its residents (including those in floodway areas).”

READ MORE: Fort McMurray flood: Resident support ramps up as cleanup looms

That funding is meant to help communities rebuild following natural disasters like the flooding in southern Alberta in 2013.

The letter of assurance went on to say, “the municipality would continue to be eligible for DRP funding even if a flood event occurred prior to the completion of the flood mitigation system.”

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NDP Municipal Affairs Critic Joe Ceci told Global News the wording clearly indicates the funding should be approved following devastating flooding that hit the region last week.

After touring the flood damage, Premier Jason Kenney indicated the municipality would likely meet the eligibility for a Disaster Recovery Program.

But, when asked whether it would honour the specific assurance for rebuilding Waterways, a spokesperson for the minister of Municipal Affairs told Global News: “details of any potential Disaster Recovery Program would have to be voted on by Cabinet before they could be made public,” adding, “stay tuned.”

“Premier Kenney flew up there for a photo op and made promises to support the city. It seems like the words ‘stay tuned’ are somewhat wavering and not solid,” Ceci said.

Ceci added he believes the residents of Wood Buffalo had already been through enough and urged the government to honour the assurance.

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“I would hope, with all sincerity, that the current government, the minister and cabinet follow through with that funding in an expeditious way,” Ceci said adding the commitment “goes beyond partisan lines.”

Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo Mayor Don Scott has said he has received indications the province is willing to help chip in on the rebuild though nothing has been announced.

Many people don’t have insurance to cover the flood damage for various reasons. In some cases, rates doubled after the 2016 fire making coverage unaffordable. In other cases, residents tell Global News they weren’t able to qualify for flood insurance.

Scott estimates the damage to his region to be more than $100 million.

Government of Alberta lette… by Emily Mertz on Scribd

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