Councillors call out inequity in flood funding
To say that some members of Haliburton County are upset that an organization in an adjacent municipality received millions of dollars for work on flood mitigation from the provincial government while the county received nothing would be an understatement.
During a Dec. 18 meeting of Haliburton County council, councillors received a report from the province’s special advisor on flooding, who conducted an independent review of the flooding events throughout Ontario in 2019.
“Specific to our county, recommendation #23 requests information to be provided by the County of Haliburton,” reads a report from county planning director Charlsey White. “The recommendation states: That the County of Haliburton document how their collaborative model worked for the 2019 flood and share this information with, and for the benefit of, other counties, municipalities and conservation authorities. No formal request related to this recommendation has been received.”
Algonquin Highlands Mayor Carol Moffatt told her colleagues that in November she had been invited to a listening session hosted by the Muskoka Watershed Advisory Group. The northern portion of Algonquin Highlands township drains into the Muskoka Watershed. As Moffatt explained, the Muskoka Watershed Advisory Group is reviewing a watershed plan for that municipality.
“Along with that, they got $5 million for no apparent reason, except to undertake that work, with options to achieve another $5 million,” Moffatt said. “What’s interesting about that is no other municipality in Ontario was given $5 million to address their watershed issue.”
For the past few years, the County of Haliburton has been working on a flood mitigation plan, including the LIDAR mapping project currently underway, all that work together worth almost $1 million.
What’s more, Moffatt said, a function of the group is to inform “a broader, comprehensive approach to watershed management in Ontario, including economic, social and environmental impacts of watershed challenges.”
In its flood mitigation efforts, the county has strengthened its relationship and communications with agencies such as the Trent Severn Waterway and the Coalition for Equitable Water Flow. In 2015, the county in concert with the CEWF created the Upper Trent Watershed Water Management Partnership, or UTWWMP, to give a unified voice to the stakeholders of the feeder lakes of the Trent-Severn Waterway when it comes to water management in the system. A number of its members have graduate-level education in issues of watershed management.
“I would like to find out how we can inform the process,” Moffatt said, adding she believed the work the county has been doing the past few years could be key to it.
“And it could be the other way around, I think the work we are doing could be the model,” she said.
Moffatt said she’d made a request for a ministerial delegation to discuss the issue during the upcoming Rural Ontario Municipal Association conference.
“I can’t comprehend how the province can consult with one area and give it $5 million, and then use that information to help inform some province-wide rollout,” she said. “It makes no sense whatsoever.”
“And meanwhile the special advisor is asking us to do a report,” said Algonquin Highlands Deputy Mayor and County Warden Liz Danielsen, referencing the request for the county to share its flood mitigation work.
Minden Hills Mayor Brent Devolin was furious.
“I’ll preface this first, if you need to reprimand me or kick me out of the chamber, I’ll take what I may,” Devolin told Danielsen. “This is bull----”
“I can’t disagree with you,” Danielsen said.
“This region, with UTWWMP and the county, is so far ahead of other regions with regards to planning, all the elements are there . . . that it should serve as a template,” Devolin said. “And I’m offended.”
“I’m done being nice, and the gloves are off,” Devolin added. “I’m offended, and every member of this government that I meet in the next six months to a year, I will absolutely unload on them on this issue.”
The Township of Minden Hills declared states of emergency due to extreme flooding in 2013, 2017 and 2019.