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Councillor upset B.C. Hydro off the hook for Trail flood cleanup

City of Trail covers its share of high water cleanup bill

A Trail city council decision to let BC Hydro off the hook for its part in Columbia Basin-wide flood cleanup has one city councillor outraged.

Robert Cacchioni said council seems satisfied that everything that could be done was done when a near record river level in July left the city on the hook for over $35,000 in repairs to the Columbia Pollution Control Centre (CPCC) and its Glenmerry Lift Station.

Council had been asking BC Hydro for an explanation as to why the waters were allowed to rise so high and damage much infrastructure in Trail and throughout the Columbia Basin.

On Tuesday night council voted—with only Cacchioni against—to forego the request for an inquiry into BC Hydro’s actions after meeting with Crown corporation officials late last month in Victoria.

“I’m of the opinion, in terms of political action, responsibility to taxpayers—because it comes down to taxpayer’s dollars—that an inquiry should be forthcoming to see exactly what was done, how it was done, whether it was done appropriately and, coming out of that, what could be done in subsequent years,” Cacchioni said.

He said his concern arises out of the fact that the big weather events that previously occurred once every 100 years —like the one this year—will now be every one in five years as climate change advances.

In mid September Cacchioni called for new flood control levels and asked BC Hydro to look at its permits for allowable water runoff levels. If the permit levels—or the water level allowed—were set too high they would affect where the sewage treatment plant's outflows and the pumps were working.

And the costs have rolled in as a result. The repairs, contractor's fees, consultant's fees and regional district staff overtime resulted in significant expenses are estimated to be about $200,000, with up to $190,000 still to come.

Of the total $390,000 in damages, the Provincial Emergency Program pays 80 per cent of the recovery expenses, with the communities and partners in the service paying the rest. Trail’s share of the local cost is 70 per cent, or $35,000.

“If you look at the extrapolation of the costs to the taxpayers to B.C., whatever they will be … it’s going to be a lot of money that the taxpayers of B.C. are going to have to absorb, and that’s going to be a continuing problem,” Cacchioni said.

“I want to be safe with an inquiry, rather than sorry.”

But it was a big water year, said Kelvin Ketchum, BC Hydro's manager of system optimization, and BC Hydro was in damage control when the big rains hit in July.

There was no mismanagement of the permit levels, he contended.

“In hindsight, if we knew we were going to get all of this rain, we probably would have taken all of our reservoirs to empty,” he said.

The Columbia River had come down over eight feet from its high of approximately 215,000 cubic feet per second flows on July 22 from the Hugh Keenleyside Dam near Castlegar.