Monday, May 30, 2011

Richelieu flooding and the issue of rebuilding

Montreal Gazette: The bleak, wet spring of 2011 has thrown public spirits into a tailspin, but no more so than for those Quebecers who live up and down the Richelieu River, an area experiencing its worst overland flooding in 150 years.

…In other words, there's a history to the pattern of settlement along the Richelieu, and that needs to taken into consideration when it comes to deciding what kind of financial compensation residents should get for property damage caused by the floods. It's the same thing in the Red River valley in Manitoba. We're not talking about cottagers who have cavalierly built pleasure palaces over the past two generations with no regard for flood risks. We're talking about settlement regions deeply rooted in Canadian history.

Insurance companies don't cover overland flood damage, which is why the taxpayer inevitably plays a role in the compensation equation. Quebec has a law that caps compensation for flood victims at $100,000, except where the law is overridden by a decree. On May 10, Public Security Minister Robert Dutil said a decree would be passed raising the cap for Richelieu flood victims to $150,000, and on May 21 Premier Jean Charest said his government was considering raising the cap another notch.

Clearly this is becoming an important political and policy question, given new and extraordinary weather patterns. It may well be that $150,000 is the appropriate cap; more study is needed. What's important is to try to establish a limit that is demonstrably reasonable. That criterion would not be met by full compensation of all affected residents for all of their property damages. There has to be some recognition of personal liability for people who, knowing what we all do about weather and climate change, choose to live beside a river prone to flooding….

Flooding of the shores of the Richelieu River on May 23rd 2011. One can see water level reaching the Gouin bridge, which was closed to traffic. The photo is taken on the Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu side looking at Iberville. Shot by Pierre cb, Wikimedia Commons, nder the Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication

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