Mayor Henry Braun described the last month in Abbotsford as “surreal and unbelievably challenging” as he gave his last press conference Friday (Dec. 10) on the flooding situation.
Braun, who at times grew emotional, announced that the last of four evacuation orders – for the Sumas Prairie “lake bottom” – was being lifted.
“I do believe the worst days are behind us, but we continue to monitor and assess the situation daily … I am optimistic that, from this point on, it will be two steps forward with no further steps back,” he said.
Braun said there are a few homes north of the Sumas River that can’t yet be reached, but the city is speaking with the homeowners about their re-entry plans.
He cautioned that there is a “long road ahead” for the community to recover from the disaster.
He said many people have told him that they’re not sure they can rebuild after having standing water in their home for almost four weeks.
“My heart goes out to all of these people – they have uncertain futures. Some are going to be find; others are going to need lots of help.”
Braun said he will continue to advocate for funding from senior levels of government
He met earlier Friday with BC Agriculture Minister Lana Popham and her federal counterpart Marie-Claude Bibeau to discuss the impact of the flooding on the farming industry.
Braun said preventing an even greater disaster in the future means upgrading 17 kilometres of the Sumas Dike and upgrading the Barrowtown Pump Station.
As well, the Matsqui Dike needs to be rebuilt because if it breaches, the disaster will make the one on Sumas Prairie “pale in comparison,” he said.
“If the Matsqui Dike breaches, the Fraser River is a much larger and more powerful river than the Nooksack River and will wreak havoc on our economy and infrastructure.”
Braun said it is estimated that the economic impact of a Fraser River flood event on Matsqui Prairie would be $30 billion.
He said rebuilding both diking systems would cost around $1 billion – money the city does not have.
Braun said he is pushing for a change in the “fiscal relationship” between cities and the provincial and federal governments.
“The property tax funding regime for local governments that was set up over 100 years ago only provides us with 10 cents of every tax dollar collected by all levels of government,” he said.
“This simple system was never designed with the idea that local government would be faced with contemplating this level of infrastructure upgrade.”
Braun applauded the work of volunteers, staff and the community over the last few weeks.
“While the flood events of the last month devastated Sumas Prairie and impacted our entire city, they also revealed the true heart and resilience of our community. We pull together in a time of great need, and together we are getting through this,” he said.
Braun said updates over the coming weeks and months will continue to be provided on the city’s website and YouTube channel.