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Chilliwack still smarting over dike funding decision

Chilliwack Mayor Sharon Gaetz is expressing bitter disappointment at being passed over for flood protection funding.

City of Chilliwack had three diking project applications winnowed down to just one project, but when the list of approved projects came through recently, Chilliwack’s name was not on it, said Mayor Gaetz.

“We were very disappointed not to be considered and hopefully we will be in the future,” she said.

It raises questions about how these projects are ranked, and what criteria is used, Gaetz said.

Infrastructure projects are jointly funded up to two-thirds by provincial and federal governments, with municipalities and diking authorities chipping in the rest.

Chilliwack officials thought their projects would rank higher, and the understanding is that the current “window of opportunity” is now closed for receiving grants from the Flood Protection program.

The money would have given the green light to make flood prevention improvements to the east dike on Young Road from Cartmell Road to Hope River Road.

“But if we are not successful ultimately in receiving grants, for us it raises the question of long-term sustainability, and whether these types of grants to municipalities are the best way to fund this kind of infrastructure,” Gaetz said.

Chilliwack needs this funding to improve its diking system more than some other communities, the mayor added.

Chilliwack had put aside its share to make the much-needed upgrades, and is now waiting for its federal and provincial counterparts to do the same with grants.

“Arguably, we need it the most,” she said. “We were the city that had two floods, the one outside the dikes in 2011, and the one in Greendale in 2009.

“If any community has demonstrated the need for additional flood protection measures, it’s City of Chilliwack,” Gaetz said.

But Chilliwack MLA John Les said just because Chilliwack was not on the list for funding during this go-around, it doesn’t mean they never will.

It’s certainly not the end of the program and there could be other opportunities coming.

“Chilliwack is almost next in line to get some of that money,” said Les.

But he underlined there are also a great many other communities in B.C. that need this kind of funding as well.

“I’m in no way discounting the needs of Chilliwack, but it is not alone in those needs.”

The MLA emphasized that he has no doubt they were “well-considered” applications that city officials made on behalf of Chilliwack, and he’s always ready to fight hard for his community.

“What is most unfortunate in this case is that not once did they tell me they were applying for this money. I wasn’t aware of it until after the announcement was made,” Les added.

He said it simply wasn’t possible for him to advocate for Chilliwack if he’s not aware of such details.

“I know when I was there I always made it my business to make sure those who could help get the word out, were aware if and when Chilliwack was to put forth grant applications.”

But nobody was told.

“Neither myself nor Barry (Penner) were informed. That is too bad.”

Chilliwack Fraser Canyon MP Mark Strahl said it was “unfortunate” that not every worthy project can receive funding.

“These types of programs are always over-subscribed,” Strahl said, adding that Pemberton was another community not appearing on the list of grants.

District of Kent did receive funding however for a pump station.

“While federal and provincial governments have provided millions to Chilliwack in recent years for flood protection, all it means is that in this round, Chilliwack was not successful.”

jfeinberg@theprogress.com

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