Flood fears stall project near creek

Ripples from the June flood in Southern Alberta seeped into the Red Deer municipal planning commission meeting on Wednesday.

Ripples from the June flood in Southern Alberta seeped into the Red Deer municipal planning commission meeting on Wednesday.

The commission was considering an application for redevelopment on a residential lot near Waskasoo Creek, when the issue of municipal liability in the event of a severe flood came up. The 4535 52nd St. property, which is adjacent to Coronation Park, encroaches slightly into the flood fringe area identified by the province — prompting Planning and Development staff to recommend a number of conditions to mitigate the risk.

These included adding fill so that the property would be 0.3 metres above the one-in-100-year flood fringe level.

But Jim Marke, a citizen representative on the commission, wondered if the conditions were sufficient. He wondered if the designated flood fringe area might prove inaccurate in light of changing weather conditions, or if mitigation guidelines could become different in the future.

“I do think the city is taking an unnecessary risk with this.”

Mayor Morris Flewwelling said the city can only work with the data available to it, and that there are no guarantees flood waters won’t one day cross the line drawn by the province.

“There’s nothing to say that in a catastrophic condition all of downtown Red Deer could at one time be flooded.

“With the current climate change, we could experience something that we’ve never experienced before.”

City solicitor Michelle Baer said development authorities have in the past been challenged over approvals that later proved unsuitable. But such disputes have typically been addressed through insurance claims, she added.

“There may be a very different change in the insurance climate in Alberta going forward after the flood.”

And that could impact the exposure of municipalities to a claim for damages, said Baer.

She suggested that the conditions proposed in the case of this application appeared reasonable, but there could be no certainty in this regard.

The commission decided to table the development application until the city can obtain a formal legal opinion about its potential liability.

Ironically, the commission approved plans for a semi-detached dwelling on the same lot in February 2012. But a decision by the owner to change the building’s design necessitated another application.

“I think as a result of the floods in Calgary, High River and Canmore we’re seeing a considerably greater degree of caution on behalf of MPC,” said Flewwelling.

hrichards@bprda.wpengine.com