Ontario derecho, tornado recovery funding not enough, municipalities say

Click to play video: 'What is a derecho and why did it cause so much damage?'
What is a derecho and why did it cause so much damage?
WATCH: What is a derecho and why did it cause so much damage? – May 24, 2022

Funding meant to help Ontario communities recover from extreme wind damage won’t be enough to make property and business owners whole or eliminate risks to vital infrastructure, some municipalities say.

Natural Resources and Forestry Minister Graydon Smith announced last month that the province would provide $5.5 million to 22 small municipalities affected by storms last summer, including tornadoes and a derecho – a line of intense, fast-moving windstorms – after the municipality of Tweed requested funding.

Smith said the funding would ensure communities “are able to recover from these weather events.” Not so, say the municipalities that received the largest share of the funding.

“We’re grateful because we had nothing, and now we have $1.2 million,” said Don DeGenova, the mayor of Tweed, in eastern Ontario. “But it certainly is not enough.”

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The derecho that swept across Ontario and Quebec caused $1 billion in damages, according to the Insurance Bureau of Canada.

Residents’ insurance companies covered property damage, but wouldn’t remove surrounding debris such as fallen or half-snapped trees at risk of falling on people or homes, DeGenova said. Nine months later, debris still litters ditches and rivers surrounding Tweed.

“I’m not talking thousands of fallen trees, I’m talking tens of thousands of fallen trees,” DeGenova said. “When you look at a picture it does not do it justice. You’re gobsmacked when you see it (in person).”

Tweed and the United Counties of Prescott and Russell were given the largest portions of the provincial funding, with about $1.2 million each.

Tweed’s money will go toward clearing debris from residents’ properties and from river banks that could otherwise leave two area highways, including part of the Trans-Canada Highway, prone to flooding, DeGenova said.

The municipality has estimated that it will cost $2.7 million to completely clear Tweed’s river banks and ditches.

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Across the United Counties, the clear path of the storm demolished private woodlots, houses, barns and county forests, said Louis Prevost, the director of planning for the counties.

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Their $1.2 million will go toward debris clean up, forest regeneration and infrastructure. The ministry was well aware the extent of the damage to two particularly affected United Counties municipalities, Prevost said.

“It’s certainly a welcome amount, but it’s not going to cover everything,” Prevost said.

The Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry said the municipalities didn’t qualify for funding under the Disaster Recovery Assistance for Ontarians program because the derecho “didn’t cause widespread damage to essential private property” there.

A spokesperson for Smith said that’s why the province is offering this one-time funding, to support municipalities where they were not otherwise eligible under other relief programs.

“This funding will support those municipalities hardest hit by the severe weather in 2022 and will work toward alleviating some of the concerns those municipalities have with the storm clean-up efforts,” Melissa Candelaria said in a statement.

“The funding was provided on a one-time basis for municipalities that sought financial support to assist with clean up and forest regeneration efforts.”

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