Flooding sends Minden Hills into emergency
By Chad Ingram and Sue Tiffin
Published May 11, 2017
For the second time in just more than four years, flooding of the Gull River plunged Minden Hills township into a state of emergency last weekend.
Signs of an impending flood were evident last week, with road closures and washouts. On Friday, May 5, Minden Hills closed Anson, Orde and McKnight Streets, along with Invergordon Avenue, as the river began to cover the streets of the village.
With heavy rainfall during the weekend, Minden Hills Reeve and Haliburton County Warden Brent Devolin declared a state of emergency in Minden Hills on Saturday, May 6.
The declaration of a state of emergency means the municipality can avail itself of provincial resources, such as disaster relief funding.
During the most intense period of flooding, the river rose nearly two metres in a span of six days.
Throngs of residents and volunteers came out to assist Minden Hills staff with the tying and transport of sandbags during the weekend and in the days following. A new, automated sandbagging machine the township just purchased in March for $35,000 and which can fill four sandbags concurrently using a foot pump system was put to the test.
“It’s the best money we’ve ever spent,” Devolin said. “It’s been a godsend.”
Minden resident Micheon Hutchings was on hand with her pickup truck.
“I saw it online, that’s how I came here,” Hutchings said. “I’m just out here to help. I live here, I have a truck that can help people. You’re called to help, so I’m here to help. I just saw town and it was insane. My husband came home and took my son and I said, I’m out. I gotta go help. The town needs help, I have to help. God says we have to help people.”
Graham Borgdorff of Lochlin and his sons Gideon and Isaac were also in town filling sandbags.
“We’re helping people not get water in their homes,” six-year-old Gideon told the paper.
Abby Xerri was grateful to the people who helped him protect his Quantum PassivHaus business on Peck Street.
“You know what, you just have to roll with it,” Xerri said. “The incredible thing is that there were suddenly 20 people out here this morning, who helped get this done. It was a blessed moment. We just have to stay positive and share stories of how this town pulls together. It’s incredible.”
By the end of the weekend, some 40,000 sandbags had been filled, volunteers continuing to show up. Some 47,000 had been filled by Monday.
However, not everyone was totally pleased with the township’s efforts.
Anson Street resident Michael Stinson told the paper the sandbag barrier that was erected near the boat launch at the corner of Anson and Peck Streets was not sufficient to prevent the flooding of Anson Street.
“Everyone keeps saying, could this have been prevented?” Stinson said. “I think we think on Anson Street, because the water, once it broke over that layer of sandbags, it just, within an hour or two, just flooded everybody out. That’s all they had to do. Of course they sent us a brochure on how to properly sandbag - it’s like a pyramid. But they just stacked them on top. They just flopped over. It was a young kid working for the town who did it, and we saw him look at it, but nobody from the town came. We think it was easily preventable. You always know where the water is going to come in.”
A larger sandbag barrier was later created by Hydro One crews.
On the morning of Monday, May 8, the rate at which the river was rising was beginning to ease up, and Devolin expected the Gull to crest within a few days.
“The river has not crested yet,” Devolin said during a press conference outside the township office.
“It would be expected that with what we see and what we know, with the weather forecast, that’s going to be mid-week.”
After 12 consecutive days of rising levels on the river, precipitation had stopped Monday morning, with light flurries in the air over the village.
“The good bit of news, after days of 15 and 20 and 50 centimetre rises, that the overnight rise was two centimetres,” Devolin said. “That’s the beginning of the tide turning for us.”
As of noon on Monday, levels on the Gull River through Minden were 15 centimetres lower than they were at the peak of the 2013 flood.
“But water levels are very high, at record highs, above and below us, at all reservoir lakes,” Devolin said.
Water from nearly 30 lakes that are part of the feeder system for the Trent Severn Waterway flows through the Gull River through the heart of Minden before continuing through the system.
During the weekend, heavy flows north of Minden damaged the log chute at Big Hawk Lake and Algonquin Highlands township closed the municipal wharf at Little Hawk Lake and Elvin Johnson Park at Halls Lake due to the high water levels.
Devolin has been in contact with Municipal Affairs minister Bill Mauro, as well as Premier Kathleen Wynne and indicated that delegations at the next Association of Municipalities of Ontario conference would involve discussions about funding for flood mitigation infrastructure in Minden.
“We have three levels of government, we all have something in this,” said Devolin, who was hoping to also make contact with the Prime Minister.
Haliburton-Kawartha Lakes-Brock MP Jamie Schmale was in Minden on Monday surveying the floodwaters.
Devolin said the new dam at Kennisis Lake, which the federal government constructed as part of $40 million worth of dam replacements and repairs taking place within the county, has been helpful.
“The Kennisis Lake dam that went operational last February, has held back a metre of water that we didn’t have before,” he said.
Devolin told the paper there have also been discussions about the dams that will eventually replace the two at the bottom of Gull Lake, south of Minden.
“The structures that go in there are going to allow more outflow than the present ones do,” he said.
At press time, numerous roads in the village of Minden remained closed to traffic, along with the main street bridge that traverses the river. The township remained in a state of emergency, a flood warning from the MNRF was still in effect and Devolin said that residents could expect water levels to remain high for at least a couple of weeks yet.
Minden Hills community services director Mark Coleman asked any residents on the system who are able to do so to secure their docks and outdoor furniture, as debris is starting to come down the river.
Last year, the province rolled out new disaster assistance legislation, which replaced the Ontario Disaster Relief Assistance Program (ODRAP). Under ODRAP, communities affected by a natural disaster were made to fundraise for themselves, with the province matching raised monies up to a ratio of two-to-one. It was the only province that required disaster-stricken communities to do so.
After the Minden flood of 2013, the community raised $780,000 towards what ended up being $1.6 million in eligible ODRAP claims.
The new programming, including the Disaster Recovery Assistance for Ontario program, for individuals who experience property damage as a result of a natural disaster, and the Municipal Disaster Recovery Assistance program, to reimburse municipalities for eligible emergency response and repair costs, does not require community fundraising.