Grand Forks residents rally on Friday afternoon to raise awareness about the flood buyout process and to ask for “a fair deal.” (Jensen Edwards/Grand Forks Gazette)

Grand Forks residents rally for a ‘fair deal’ in flood buyouts

Demonstrators also criticized how long it has taken to be offered land deals

Standing on the double yellow centre line in a dark green rain jacket covering layers of warmth, Mel Pulvermacher stared up at a truck’s driver’s side window with a thin piece of white paper in his hand.

“19 months of waiting feels like your boss coming up to you and saying you will be fired,” read the note. “When? We don’t know. Will we give you all your wages? We’re not sure.”

“Read, it,” Pulvermacher said. “What do you think?”

Pulvermacher and other Grand Forks residents whose properties are slated to be bought out under the city’s future plans for flood protection took over the sidewalks and centre line of the 2nd Street bridge in the city on Friday afternoon to raise concern about what they might be offered for their properties, more than a year after the City decided to buy them out.

“We’re not flood victims,” read Ruckle resident Dave Soroka’s sign, the flip side reading, “We’re not asking for favours.”

Rather, residents on the buyout list argue that they are being “sacrificed” to preserve the economic centres of Grand Forks like the city’s downtown and industrial area. As such, they’ve consistently lobbied government to buy their properties at a pre-flood value.

Friday’s rally was meant to raise awareness of the landowners’ situation with others in the community and to amplify their message to the city: “Fair buyout now,” as several signs demanded.

When news came in June that Grand Forks would have just over $50 million in federal, provincial and municipal funds to implement a flood recovery and mitigation plan, residents on the buyout list learned that their properties would be evaluated at “current market value” – their values post-flood. Since then, flood recovery staff have held meetings with residents to try and come up with in-kind options to help bring buyout values up closer to pre-flood values.

“We want to make sure we come out of this economically whole,” said Soroka when the rally arrived at City Hall on Friday. There, demonstrators were met by Grand Forks mayor Brian Taylor and flood recovery manager Graham Watt.

Residents who are frustrated with the time it has taken since the flood for the city to begin offering land purchase agreements – 18 months and counting – threw questions at Taylor and Watt on Friday about the decisions made to get to this point. Many wondered why precisely the Ruckle area was chose to be bought out, instead of somewhere else along the Kettle River.

Watt sifted through overlapping questions and voices to try and offer answers. On why Ruckle was chosen to be restored to the floodplain, he explained that engineering reports indicated that it was best to target that area because of the way water could otherwise back up the Kettle River further upstream, as well as the Granby River, which merges near Ruckle.

Watt also said that the decision was partly economic, noting that it was cheaper to implement necessary flood mitigation measures with the properties slated for buyouts rather than use part of the low-lying downtown or to add additional protection features.

“If that made it affordable for you then,” one demonstrator yelled over the crowd, “it’s time for you to make it affordable for us.”

The City is currently in the process of hiring a consultant to develop a plan for land acquisition and begin negotiations with affected residents. Under the project’s proposed timeline, buyouts and assistance with moving will happen from now through 2021, with negotiations and payments beginning as early as December. Infrastructure repairs and construction will stretch from 2020 to 2023.

RELATED: Buyout residents ask for expert representation in land negotiations

RELATED: Residents petition for pre-flood value, say Grand Forks could set B.C. precedent

RELATED: Grand Forks mulls in-kind options to support flood buyout residents


@jensenedw
Jensen.edwards@grandforksgazette.ca

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