“We will be ready this season,” was the message received by residents of flood-torn properties in the Southern Lakes region during an online meeting with government officials on the evening of Feb 23.
Last year, the first meeting with community residents was not held until June 29. In 2021, the department was caught off-guard after spring reports from government hydrologists said there was no cause to worry unless it rained a lot. This year, snow pack studies started a month earlier and flood equipment warehouses are stacked with sandbags, plastic rolls and super-bags ready to go.
And because many of the existing berms and sandbags were left in place over the winter, another piece that’s needed for flood preparation is already in place. The existing barriers are being assessed and once the potential for flooding is clear, the berms will either be decommissioned or shored up. Officials said they will be more confident with data and making flood predictions come April.
Two contractors have been pre-approved to assist residents with flood mitigation and the government says they are working hard to ease the permitting burden on residents. The Department of Energy, Mines and Resources (EMR) has developed a streamlined process for Yukoners to complete erosion control projects off their titled waterfront properties. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 857-667-5215.
Part of the problem lies in that the fact that often berms and barriers are needed on adjacent Crown land, and would not be located on the property of residents. Other mitigations like further raising the height of some roads is still under consideration.
Engineering studies are underway on options for a permanent fix for the most affected residents of Army Beach and south M’Clintock. Residents were told to contact email@example.com to find out the exact boundaries of the first section that is being studied. Officials will roll out from those areas, since they have the highest number of residences at risk, and from there onto Tagish, Nares, Bennett and Laberge.
The department was very clear that these are not options that will be able to be actioned this year, and so, community and individual preparedness are still paramount.
The responses from approximately 55 residents was mixed. Key pieces of information and personnel were missing from the meeting — the hydrologist from Environment could not attend at the last minute, Yukon Housing Corporation was not yet finished developing their program for homeowners, and the EMR official charged with coordination was also not in attendance to answer questions.
Brad Cathers, the MLA for Lake Laberge, said that interdepartmental coordination can be challenging. In an interview the following day he said, “It is a bit strange that they had a public meeting, to talk about issues. And then most of the departments and corporations involved in the response were not available to address questions.”
Much was promised for the next meeting in March, including fuller participation from those other departments, an after-action-response report from 2021, a new housing repair program, comparative data with 2007 comparators, and a completed engineering report from Stantec. The meeting will likely include another update from the Yukon Energy Corporation.
Some residents were frustrated about always doing new studies, and government not heeding the recommendations contained in older ones. Others like Justin Lemphers and Cathers were frustrated that Laberge residents had not been notified of the meeting.
Damien Burns, assistant deputy minister at Community Services, explained that since one Zoom call last year had been disrupted by “zoom bombers,” the department has changed how they advertise. This year they sent letters out and the meeting information was contained in the firstname.lastname@example.org email. It seemed many people did not get letters which drew criticism about the meeting not being advertised.
Cathers sees the government’s main shortfalls on the communications front. Otherwise, he is full of praise for the efforts that came together last summer, both from the government staff and the volunteers working hard.
“We’re attempting to reflect about where lessons can be learned, and where things can be done better this year,” he said.
In an email late Thursday, a spokesperson for Community Services itemized approximately $8.5 million in expenses from the 2021 flood season.
- $750,000 for personnel to fill the incident management team roles, personnel deployed to fill sandbags, maintain pumps, conduct inspections, and communicate with residents, as well as to hire three interprovincial task teams from Manitoba and Alberta who provided expertise;
- additional personnel costs exceeding $500,000 to hire casual employees to assist with response, and overtime from extended hours;
- $550,000 expensed to local caterers who provided meals to those working on flood response, including on-site for crews outside of Whitehorse and to the incident management team working extended hours at the Elijah Smith Elementary School;
- $80,000 for the provision of food and transportation for the Canadian Armed Forces soldiers who supported the event until August 2nd;
- more than $2.5M to many local contractors who were hired and who put in countless hours supporting the response by providing heavy equipment;
- $700,000 to Yukon First Nations Wildfire who provided front-line assistance;
- $240,000 for vehicle rentals to transport crews and equipment;
- $780,000 for service contracts for rentals and sewer pump-outs; and
- $2.4M to purchase equipment, from local vendors whenever possible, including pumps, hoses, sand rock, poly, etc.
The meeting video, as well as the snow report, and other information has been sent to people on the email@example.com distribution list. This list is a reliable method of connection for residents of Lake Laberge and the other Southern Lakes to keep up to date on information.
Correction: An earlier version of this story listed the incorrect email for flooding information. The correct email is firstname.lastname@example.org. The News regrets this error.
Contact Lawrie Crawford at email@example.com