The issues swirling around the Young Road dike project were muddied Tuesday as local First Nations members joined Young Road residents to oppose the project — for entirely different reasons.
About 30 people converged on the city hall property waving signs to passersby on Young Road, and asking to be heard by council.
Mayor Sharon Gaetz, who has stepped out of discussions due to potential for conflict of interest, had to put the meeting on hold when her brother Dave Hallett broke the rules for council chambers by ushering in the group holding placards and trying to address council.
The group went from filing into council chambers, to spilling into the lobby where acting mayor Sam Waddington, and senior city staffer Rob Carnegie tried to field questions and concerns about the plan to raise the dike by one metre.
Loud drumming and singing from local Sto:lo community members disrupted the regular city council meeting and brought four RCMP officers to city hall to quell the disturbance.
Despite the fact that the Young Road Dike project was approved by council, and road work contract signed and underway, the opposition to the project by a small group has persisted.
The major road work has to begin soon or Chilliwack will lose the two-thirds funding for the $2.3 million project from their senior government funding partners, the acting mayor underlined.
The residents are concerned about driveway grades and property values, and other concerns, prompting them to ask council to opt for the alternate dike alignment, which was considered and rejected by council: extending the Wing Dike on Cartmell Road, instead of raising the one kilometre stretch of Young Road from Cartmell to Hope River.
Estimates that the alternate alignment would cost up to $65 million make it prohibitive, plus the fact that ongoing erosion eating away at Island 22 puts the efficacy of that alignment in doubt.
Russell Williams Jr., a member of Skwah, said they should be protected from flooding like anyone else. He admitted he didn’t know much about the jurisdiction issues.
“Since my father’s time, he’d talk about what it means being on the wrong side of the dike, and that’s why I’m hear today to show support for another way.”
One of the myths is that the local First Nations have not been a part of the discussions, said the acting mayor.
“Staff sat down with band representatives on several occasions, and has also contacted federal agencies to see about funding alternate alignments for the long-term.”
But their best estimate is that those options are years, if not decades away.
“The more work we do on each section, the more complete the protection is for the entire diking system,” the acting mayor said.
Jay Mussell, a member of Skwah First Nation who showed up to the demonstration, said she has family members who live directly on the dike who would be adversely affected.
“I was originally just interested in the diking plan itself but now it has come to light that there are alternate proposals, like extension of the dike along Cartmell Road.”
Asked why she thought the city should undertake what is a federal responsibility, she said she couldn’t answer that, but added “they do have some say.”
Mussell said she believes the estimate of the alternate dike alignment along Cartmell at $65 million, is “a really inflated” number.
Acting Mayor Waddington says the hefty estimate for the alternate alignment of between $50 million and $65 million is due to the fact that property acquisition alone would be $10 million, and municipalities cannot expropriate First Nations land.
The jurisdictional limitations make it impossible for municipal coffers to pay for flood protection of area First Nations.
“The decision has been made now and it’s a matter of continuing to communicate with residents about how we’re going to go about it,” Waddington said. “The Young Road dike is truly the best option on the table for the current funding that exists.”
Stuart Leslie was one of the Young Road residents pressing for another chance to meet with city officials to talk about another way.
“The frustrating thing is we come to you with information and it gets presented to your lawyers and your lawyers blow it off. Why? Because they’re lawyers. They do this because it’s a bottomless purse.”
He said the residents were just a “small group” that can’t afford to go up against the city “with bottomless pockets.”
“We don’t want this just swept under the rug,” he said, adding that their information presented last time was just thrown aside.
“We have strong claims,” he said. “All we ask is to have a meeting to discuss these issues.”
They will possibly get that chance, but to what end isn’t clear.
“We want to make it clear we have heard their concerns, but we have to make decisions in the best interests of the whole community, and that’s what we’ve done,” Waddington said.