Grand Forks council debates flood solutions

Council meetings have been controversial lately.

The City of Grand Forks council has passed three resolutions to help residents in the wake of flooding, but council’s last meetings have not been without controversy.

At the regular meeting on May 22, council voted unanimously in favour of three resolutions (added as late items to the agenda) to help businesses and residents affected by flooding.

The three resolutions were that council authorizes staff to: cease issuing utilities bills for properties rendered uninhabitable by flooding until they are reoccupied or redeveloped; issue utility credits to affected commercial customers in evacuation zones for periods they could not operate due to threats posed by flooding ; and waive certain administrative fees including but not limited to disconnection and re-connection fees, and late penalties and interest on utilities bills until June 30, 2018.

Council also added a late item for flood discussion to the agenda, and allowed residents to address the issue during question period.

Regional District of Kootenay Boundary board chair and Area D director Roly Russell was also present at the meeting, and spoke to the role of council and the RDKB board in the Emergency Operations Centre – something many residents have had questions about.

“In the midst of response there is a limited role for council or board political influence in the EOC,” he said. “The playbook is really clear in terms of how that unfolds. As we transition from response into recovery, that becomes a lot more unwritten in terms of how that unfolds.”

During question period from the audience, local residents expressed concerns and frustration at members of council.

“How are you going to help people financially, how are you going to help them physically?,” said Jennifer Houghton. “You people are our leaders, what are you going to do?”

Tensions rose rapidly, as Mayor Frank Konrad reiterated again that he was working “ behind the scenes” on solutions with the province for housing. He cited conversations with B.C. Premier John Horgan multiple times throughout the meeting.

Council had a heated debate about waste management solutions for flood victims; though council did not arrive at any solutions during the meeting, the RDKB announced later that week that tipping fees would be covered, as well as reimbursed, for residents disposing of flood-damaged garbage.

“You need to be more proactive every one of you,” Houghton said, in response to council’s discussion. “This is a time that requires more of you. Everyone here has put in more than they had to for their neighbours.”

“A lot of times, I don’t want to say my hands are tied, but we don’t want to duplicate services,” Konrad said. “Whether you believe me or not, but if you think my heart is not totally in this, you are wrong. My role is that where I deal with elected officials at the next level of government.”

There was also an admission at the meeting that council had not met since the flooding began, and council debated why that was. Some councillors said they had advocated for council to meet, and also supported having more community meetings.

Council then held an in camera meeting on May 28. Konrad had originally said there would be a public comment portion of the special to-go-in camera meeting (prior to the “private” portion) for public comment; that was cancelled due to constraints on staff time.

However, after more than a dozen people showed up to the meeting, many in gumboots and construction wear, Konrad stressed that while they would allow some public comment, it would have to be limited due to the staff resources needed to run the meeting. Concerns raised by residents included how the dam failed, when they might have answers about soil contamination and housing solutions.

Council will meet on June 11 for Committee of the Whole meeting at 9 a.m. and a regular meeting at 7 p.m.

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