Dike building is unfair, says farmer

Joe Corcoran missed a very important meeting two summers ago. And it may cost him his farm and property.

Joe Corcoran missed a very important meeting two summers ago.

And it may cost him his farm and property.

It all started in the spring of 2007, when Upper Liard was hit with severe flooding.

The Department of Community Services organized a meeting to discuss building some dikes, with most of the attention going to several homes on the eastern bank just north of the Alaska Highway.

But Corcoran lives on the west bank just south of the river, where the river bends around a peninsula.

His farm sits on that jut of land.

At the meeting, Corcoran argued that if any dike building happened upriver, it would increase the amount of water hitting the bend and flood his property.

“It’s heading straight to my place,” he said.

“If you’re going to do this dike up the river, you can come down and do one for me too.”

Corcoran didn’t feel anyone cared.

“The government sold me the land and now they’re going to dike it so it washes me out,” he said.

“I don’t feel that’s right.”

He wanted to make sure the government had some studies done on what would happen to his land if dikes were built upriver.

“My main concern was to leave the river alone,” he said.

Only Liard First Nation Chief Liard McMillan took note of Corcoran’s worries.

“He was the only guy who said that my idea was right,” said Corcoran.

The meeting determined a study should be done before any work was performed on the river.

But then there was a second meeting.

“In the summer they had another meeting, I didn’t know about it,” he said.

“I felt bad about it because I’ve been in Liard for 40 years and I’m part of the community.”

Corcoran saw it as an attempt to begin working on dikes upriver without any attention to his land.

“I’m not against it at all,” he said. “I just feel like, why should I take all the brunt of the water?”

Some dikes have already been built upriver.

Tractors have put some smaller plastic sandbag dikes in place upriver, said Corcoran.

When he found that out, he went to Premier Dennis Fentie.

Fentie told him he would get someone from Community Services to look into it, but the department staffer couldn’t make any promises that work downstream would be done anytime soon.

So Corcoran went to Community Services Minister Archie Lang.

“Lang promised that someone would have a look at it,” said Corcoran.

But the minister also refused to put any promises in writing.

And the study didn’t help.

It looked at flooding problems in Upper Liard and Marsh Lake and was completed last August.

It says flood prevention measures in Upper Liard are preliminary and more studies need to be done.

It estimates flood damage in Upper Liard at anywhere from $644,000 to $1,281,000.

It suggests departments from the territory and the federal government draft a plan.

But the Department of Community Services, which held the first meeting, isn’t in a hurry.

“There were some recommendations in the report but the government has not made any commitment to pursue them,” said Kriss Sarson, director of community infrastructure for the Department of Community Services.

“There’s a regulatory approval process but you’re talking a one-year window,” he said.

It’s going to cost a lot of money and take a bit of time, too.

“Given the magnitude and scope of work, over $1 million, that would typically need budget approval, and that would be subject to cabinet approval,” said Sarson.

“Any long-term or beneficial effort would be very costly in nature.”

Nature isn’t in a hurry either.

“It’s a one in 19- or 20-year flood. It’s a very infrequent flood, and it’s very costly,” he said.

That leaves any permanent dike work on the backburner.

“I don’t think this is necessarily ignored by the government,” said Sarson.

“The government is evaluating it in reference with their other priorities.”

Now Corcoran has six months until flooding comes again.

It wouldn’t be a problem if there had been no dike building, he said.

But it’s unfair that he’s been snubbed while others get preferential treatment, said Corcoran.

“There’s going to be all this extra water coming toward my place,” he said.

“I just want them to do some work for me too.”

Contact James Munson at