Thursday, July 11, 2013

I generally go to great lengths to disagree with MLA Rob Anderson, but today I find no option but to agree.

The flooding in High River and area is tragic, people losing their homes and their possessions can be considered nothing but.  You can blame global warming for the flood or the government for letting people build on flood plains, you can blame the developer, the contractor or the insurance company but in the end, the tragic reality is: people are encouraged to make decisions about things they know very little about and trust that the consequences of their decisions will be positive and if not, at least covered by insurance.

To build a house, on the side of a hill, a flood plain or beside a transportation utility corridor often brings with it unpleasant surprises like, slides, floods or 500 KVA power lines.  Some of these things are inconveniences, but  landslides or flood can be major personal disasters.

Now we as society, are quick to protect everyone from everything and in the case of those who made bad, (hindsight) decisions thought must always be given to the ability of the state to help. Protection of life always preempts property, but once life is protected, even if it means the RCMP breaking into houses to keep the guns from doing harm, the debate of how to restore one to their former state is tricky.

Rob said, he did not think the province should replace the half million dollar houses that people lost, and while he said this about people living in his bosses constituency and not his own, I can assume the same sentiment would apply in Airdrie and frankly, I agree.

I go to great lengths to avoid owning property in locations subject to landslides, flood plains or new housing subdivisions  because I am blessed with knowing a thing or two about construction and I see no point in building a house that is going to float away, fall away or burn down just because the neighbor has a BBQ.
Basically I do not like people enough to live in a new subdivision, they are just too close, consequently I have never lost a home or a friend to some natural disaster or observing some aberrant personal behavior.

But not many people know the things I know about housing, granite counter tops seems to take precedence over proper functioning sumps and landscape grading. Even Mike Holmes, will tell you about these things in a way  soccer Mom's who enjoy carpenter beefcake will appreciate.

But  people buy based on emotion and not through study and expertise and with this comes the challenge of how much protection can we afford the average citizen? Should we, as a society underwrite the risks people are subject too, foreseeable or not?

Questions arise:
  • Is it acceptable to build on a 200 year flood plain, knowing that water  might not wait 200 years to flood you out?
  • Should the developer be required to disclose, along with the municipality, the existence of the flood plain to the purchaser?
  • Should the title to the property not indicate known geological, lithological, aquatic or pre-existing land use issues.
  • Should those, who chose to buy in high risk locations be required, as part of the lenders due diligence, to maintain insurance coverage specific to the risk  as a specific peril?
  • What do home inspectors actually do anyway?
Now Rob is, of course, trying to distance his party from being responsible for the floods despite the fact, climate change is occurring and they won't admit that the human race is the greatest catastrophe to occur on the planet since the beginning of time.  However the folks who most strongly support such views are apt to not vote for Rob even if they live in a mud hut in Airdrie. 
There are, of course, no mud huts in Airdrie, the closest thing they have is the basement suite I used to occupy, occasionally.  I certainly do not think the human race is bad for the planet, we are the only reason beavers are not number one at ecosystem modification and as the superior species, the Alpha as it were, we can damn well do what we want with the place because if we stop, Mother Earth is going to undo all our good work in about ten years anyway.
Rob is correct, we need not provide full restitution to those harmed in the floods, it is not societies responsibility to restore everyone to the way they were before the incident, but it is our responsibility to offer reasonable advance awareness to people who build homes on the side of hills, flood plains, flight paths or TUC's. 
Ugly precedents to the contrary have been set in Edmonton when the city lost the law suit holding them responsible for the sloughing of the river bank and had to buy some houses that were on their way to the Hudson bay, but that had more to do with who owned the houses than real civic liability.
In High River, some will be ok, others will not, there is no magic dredging solution to maintain the idyllic frontage views of the river, flood plains are unsafe, period. 
It's the same property rights argument we get all the time, but in this case I do feel sympathy for those who bought granite counter top and sump pump equipped houses on the flood plain. To avoid repeating this issue we must create awareness of the need for personal loss mitigation combined with full disclosure from the authorities having jurisdiction of the inherit risks.
We can't replace every one's house, stand your ground on this issue Rob, but follow it up with some strategies to mitigate future repeats, work with the government on this next step, you'll look like a real hero.


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