The mayor of a British Columbia community devastated by last month’s floods says finding winter housing for displaced residents is his top priority with recovery efforts underway.
Princeton Mayor Spencer Coyne said about 300 people from the area are still on evacuation order and about one third of them will need accommodation.
“We want to keep people in the community,” he said. “If we move people out of the community, they’re not going to be able to work and that’s going to add another layer of stress and obstacles to overcome.”
Princeton is among several flood-damaged locations that have transitioned to recovery — a stage marked by the withdrawal of the Canadian Armed Forces Friday.
Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth thanked both military personnel and provincial partners for their assistance in responding to the destruction caused by unprecedented rainfall in November across the province’s southwest.
Over the past month, 748 military personnel and nine aircraft were assigned to help with the floods. Their work included filling and placing sandbags to protect homes and businesses, constructing a so-called tiger dam to stop the damage on Highway 1, and delivering more than 31,000 kilograms of food, vaccines and other supplies to Kamloops, Chilliwack, Kelowna, Vernon and Merritt.
With conditions improving, Farnworth said recovery efforts will be managed by contractors, non-governmental organizations and a specialized contingent from the BC Wildfire Service.
He also thanked the provinces of Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta for their support during the initial response.
“In times like these, it is comforting to know that other provinces and the Canadian Armed Forces are there to be called upon to help,” Farnworth said in a statement Friday.
In Princeton, Coyne said crews are making progress on water lines and a sewer replacement line, as well as other infrastructure repairs. The town’s water supply has been disinfected and as soon as it delivers two weeks of negative test results, a do-not-consumer order will be dropped to boil water advisory.
Housing solutions will target not only Princeton residents, but those in surrounding communities like Tulameen, Coalmont and along Highway 3, he said. The town is working with the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen on support, Coyne said.
The COVID-19 pandemic has created challenges however, with communal housing no longer recommended. Without much available hotel or motel space, he said the community is looking to put up something similar to a work camp at its industrial park.
“We have water, sewer, power, everything nearby so it can be run to the buildings and then set up for the interim, so people can have a place to go and still stay in the community.”
The biggest challenge right now is funding, Coyne said. A request is in with Emergency Management B.C. and the community may also look to BC Housing depending on the response.
“We’re moving at the speed of government,” he said, adding that he believes everyone is doing the best they can to make it work.
BC Housing did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Emergency Management B.C. said in a statement that it is actively discussing the town’s recovery needs with the mayor, “and continue to support Princeton evacuees with emergency housing and support services while we look for more long term supports in the future.”
The town is working with the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen to determine how many people will need long-term housing. Some have moved out of town; others are still living with friends or family.
The town is also trying to expedite the process for people to return to their actual homes where possible. It has removed building permit fees, so that residents can start rebuilding immediately, however some are still waiting for their homes to dry out, Coyne said.
Despite the challenges, which appear to continue to mount with rising COVID-19 cases, Coyne said he’s proud of his community.
“The way we’ve been able to come together to support each other is amazing and I’m honoured to be able to call Princeton my home.”
Farmers in the Fraser Valley and Interior also received new support Friday.
Many commercial livestock operations in the Fraser Valley and Interior of B.C. lost their hay and forage supply in the flooding, a media release from the Agriculture Ministry said.
The Emergency Flood Forage Program is providing up to $1 million in funding from Emergency Management BC to help fill the immediate need, the statement said.
“B.C. livestock producers are resilient by nature, but we recognize what a challenging year it’s been for them as they’ve had to recover from the heat dome, wildfires and now floods,” Minister Lana Popham said in the statement.
“This program will help ensure livestock producers in B.C. can take care of their animals with enough hay and forage to fill an immediate need.”
The B.C. government said it is working in collaboration with the BC Cattlemen’s Association and the B.C. Forage Council to deliver the emergency program with the shared goal of assisting livestock producers to resume operations.
Amy Smart, The Canadian Press