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Fraser Valley Regional District says applications for B.C.’s help on floods ‘unanswered for days’

‘We need help today, not tomorrow, or in the coming days or weeks,’ said FVRD chair Jason Lum
Area residents survey the damage at Othello Campground on Nov. 29, 2021, including some forced out by flood waters on Nov. 15. (Jessica Peters/ Hope Standard file)

With infrastructure in the Fraser Valley Regional District washing away or on the brink of failure due to catastrophic flooding, help is needed right now from senior government, said FVRD Chair Jason Lum.

“We are issuing an urgent plea for immediate help to the provincial and federal governments,” said Lum, in a news release Nov. 30.

Roads, diking infrastructure, sewer systems, and bridges “continue to wash away or suffer catastrophic damage” due to the ongoing flooding, said Lum.

There are key pieces of infrastructure, including the Wilson Road Dyke in the Chilliwack River Valley, on the brink of failure, in more than 57 incidents that FVRD staff are tracking.

“We need help today, not tomorrow, or in the coming days or weeks,” Lum stressed.

There at least two houses in a precarious situation on Wilson Road so the risk of loss of property is “very serious,” right now, he added.

RELATED: Homes lost, road wiped out in Hope

Delays in the provincial application process, where projects are approved on a case-by-case basis, means that responses are coming either too little or too late.

Lum cites examples where top-priority requests from the FVRD Emergency Operations Centre have gone unanswered for days like the urgent funding request for $1.5 million to shore up Othello Road near Hope.

“We finally received verbal approval to save Othello Road late last night, but by then the road was gone, so were the houses,” Lum stated.

During a press conference earlier in the day, Minister of Public Safety Mike Farnworth was asked why there have been delays in the FVRD’s requests for permission and money to do urgent work to prepare for and prevent flooding. Farnworth denied any requests had been made.

“There is no request for permission for urgent repairs to prevent flooding,” Farnworth said.

Chair Lum was perplexed by that response, and said he couldn’t comment on why FVRD funding requests had not “made it” to Minister Farnworth’s desk.

But Lum said it was definitely “concerning” since there were more than 50 emergency requests from FVRD pending approval from EMBC.

FVRD is responsible for 14,000 square kilometres from Abbotsford to Boston Bar, with six municipalities and eight electoral districts.

As of Nov. 30 there were several homes in the FVRD “still teetering on the edge of the washout, at risk of being swallowed by the Coquihalla River.”

“During an emergency we need our partners in government to react quickly, and when a response comes not hours but days after the fact, it’s clear the current system of approvals is broken, and it is failing us and the residents of our elected areas,” concluded Lum.

FVRD staff have been working around the clock with first responders to assist the people who are suffering in this crisis. As a result, FVRD applied to Emergency Management BC for $30,000 in funding to support the standby efforts of FVRD volunteer fire departments who have been on the ground working for 10 days straight. That request was denied.

“To have a request for $30,000 to compensate those incredible volunteers for the round-the-clock work they are doing shows a complete lack of understanding for our situation and community. It’s an insult to those volunteers who are out risking their lives for their neighbour. This needs to be resolved immediately.

In an emergency situation the FVRD is response for response in the eight electoral districts. Within those areas are dozens of pieces of critical infrastructure including 12 water systems, three sewer systems and numerous diking systems.

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Jennifer Feinberg

About the Author: Jennifer Feinberg

I have been a Chilliwack Progress reporter for 20+ years, covering the arts, city hall, as well as Indigenous, and climate change stories.
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