Town could nab federal funding for flood project

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The Town of High River could secure funding from the federal government as early as next year to finance its flood mitigation project for the namesake Highwood River, according to Coun. Tim Whitford.

During talks with provincial bureaucrats last month about the town’s proposed bar scalping project for the Highwood, Whitford said a director from Environment Sustainable Resources Development (ESRD) informed him that the federal government had already earmarked money for flood mitigation efforts in Alberta starting in 2014.

He said the ESRD director made it clear that High River would be at the top of the list of funding recipients.

“These funds will be matched provincially and High River is at the top list of priority,” Whitford said. “We are hopeful that this will result in the first three-way cost shared project under the program.”

This funding will go towards town efforts to hasten the flow of the Highwood by removing gravel and bar deposits from sections of the river that intersect the community.

This process –known as bar scalping- is expected to reduce the likelihood of flooding in the town by allowing the Highwood to flow more freely.

However, Whitford said the bar scalping application process has been consistently delayed by the myriad of jurisdictional and legislative changes at the provincial and federal ministries responsible for overseeing waterways.

Before recent amendments to the Navigable Waters Act, the town needed to not only receive permission from the ESRD but also from the federal Oceans and Fisheries department.

As the application worked its way through various governmental channels, Whitford said the fallout from these changes resulted in some paperwork gaffes that caused the community to miss out on an opportunity to complete the project this spring.

“Both levels of government were engaged in change processes which directly impacted our application,” he said. “Actually, our application was lost several times in the provincial system.

“On the federal side, there were significant changes in the scope of the Navigable Water Act, as well as major downsizing in the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, and in Environment Canada during the application approval process. Provincially, two large departments are in the process of amalgamation, Environment and Sustainable Resource Development.”

“The impact of these process and regulatory changes was that High River missed a complete season, because work in stream is permitted only in a very narrow window due to in-stream aquatic needs.”

In addition to these bureaucratic woes, Whitford said the town is also dealing with ever-changing procedural requirements -including newly minted provisions requiring project officials to reach out to five nearby First Nations bands.

“Senior governments have fiduciary obligations to ensure that First Nations rights are protected in all environmental applications/assessments,” he said. “This is a procedural issue and has a designated provincial representative is working with our consultants.”

“The process is expected to be outlined and initiated July 1, 2013. Five First Nations are identified as requiring communication on our applications.”

These delays prompted officials from the town, the MD of Foothills and Worley Parsons –the engineering firm coordinating the project- to meet with ESRD representatives in Calgary on April 17.

Whitford said this meeting helped the town better understand key issues slowing down the application process and should greatly assist stakeholders moving forward.

“This was a policy level discussion, intended to develop a team approach to resolving issues ‘that make High River a community at risk’ as communicated by Mayor Blokland,” he said.

“We believe that we have been successful in identifying barriers on a go forward basis, and are proceeding with a more detailed application.”



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