Flooded farmers count losses

Property owners and farmers hit by freshet flooding were hoping for reassurance at the town hall meeting hosted by City of Chilliwack last week.

Members of the Chilliwack Fire Department pass sandbags to each other while protecting a property from flood waters at the end of Ballam Road on June 6. Flooded farmers were hoping for reassurance at last week's town hall meeting.

Property owners and farmers hit by freshet flooding were hoping for reassurance at the town hall meeting hosted by City of Chilliwack last week.

But blueberry farmer Amarjit Gill said there wasn’t much on offer.

Their entire blueberry field they’ve been nurturing for six years is under water.

They stand to lose about 20 acres of berries that would have ripened next month, and probably the plants as well.

“This is a depressing situation for us. It’s not a one-man job to fix this,” Gill said. “Our whole life’s work is gone.”

Since they pay the same tax as everyone else, she said they should get the same service as those  behind the city diking infrastructure.

“No one seems responsible for this,” she said. “I understand the water is too high but they shouldn’t leave us hanging like this. We would have liked to have heard that once the water goes down, they will repair the berm.”

She hastened to add they are very “appreciative” of the emergency sandbagging efforts taken on their behalf, which likely saved the family home.

City officials made it clear that property owners living behind the orphaned “berm” built by the province in 1997, are responsible for any flood and erosion impacts themselves.  But in spite of this, the city nonetheless undertook an emergency program of flood work,

sandbagging and road work to mitigate some of the flooding.

“Possible funding avenues for business loss also came up at the meeting,” said city emergency planning coordinator James MacDonald. “Whether someone is eligible or not depends on the commodity they supply.”

The city decided to help facilitate a committee, comprised mostly of affected residents and owners, to discuss the “next steps” in mitigation, once the water recedes. They also agreed to undertake private well water testing, like they did during the high water of 2007, to protect public health and safety.

“The cool weather is in our favour now,” he said. “That being said we are consciously staying in touch with affected residents and working out what the next steps might be.”

At least 17 properties outside the Chilliwack dike system have been affected by the 2011 erosion and flooding.

The city can’t undertake any more preventative work until the freshet water levels go down, but they will ensure that prevention efforts “remain on the radar” for followup.

“It was not all doom and gloom,” MacDonald said about the meeting. “Obviously there is a bureaucracy in place, and we have to fit the needs and wants with what is available.

“I believe the majority left with a clearer understanding of what was and was not available, and some rumours were quashed.

“That was the intent of the meeting and everyone got the same message. That message might have been unpalatable for some, but I believe most were relieved to hear a consistent message coming from the city on this.”

Hazelnut farmer Hanne Van Den Brink said she and husband John have been growing nut trees for 25 years, but this year will be a complete washout.

High water is something they’re familiar with, but not like this. Their house is located inside the dike system, so it’s fine, she said.

But since the river current changed direction and started eroding the berm, they now face the terrible prospect of losing their entire back orchard, or 35 acres of hazelnut trees, planted in 1987.

“That’s our livelihood. So I don’t know what we’re going to do. It sounds like everyone will just be taking their losses,” Van Den Brink said. “We hope they will keep plugging away trying to secure funding from the province or somewhere to fix it.”

Some of the residents are frustrated that no one took responsibility for maintaining the orphaned berm in the years after it was built. Others were hoping for better news.

“I think we were quite disappointed. It was the same bureaucratic thing where it’s not their responsibility, and there’s no funding available at this point for disaster relief. When is it a disaster? For us it’s a disaster.

“We worked our whole lives and this year our income will be nil.”

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