Questions flood in at Welland River sessions

More than 600 neighbours of the Welland River flowed into four town hall meetings last month to learn about a flood plain mapping project.

They left many questions on display boards but received few immediate answers.

They asked about the effects of lines — showing potential flood water flow in a major storm — on development, insurance, farming, property values and building replacement.

The answers come later, said Andrea Bourrie, a consultant working with Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority, during a town hall meeting of 175 people in Wellandport last week, the last in a series of meetings that were also held in Chippawa, Welland and Caistor Centre.

Bourrie said consultants gathered information and raised awareness about the floodplain mapping process.

NPCA had sent letters promoting the meetings to 5,000 residents living within 500 metres of the Welland River from the Binbrook Dam to the Niagara River at Chippawa.

Still ahead are two more rounds: a technical round in April and presentations of findings in the fall.

Provincial legislation governing conservation authorities requires maps of potential flood areas during a major storm, Bourrie said.

Construction in those areas would be prohibited or restricted to protect residents and property.

The existing Welland River floodplain plan lines were drawn in 1985.

In 2010, NPCA tried to update those lines with current information but dropped the project because it failed to consult residents along the river.

The consultant’s report this fall will contain flood lines using current technology and resident information. It will include development and other restrictions to limit flooding damage.

Answers to residents’ questions submitted at last month’s meetings will be in the final report and background material, said Bourrie.

At the Wellandport Community Centre residents from West Lincoln, Welland, Wainfleet and Pelham threw out many questions and comments.

David Honey of the Niagara Land Owners Association warned homeowners against signing anything, calling a 500-metre area on maps a legal encumbrance on their property.

NPCA could potentially face a class action lawsuit from the 5,000 residents affected, he said.

A federation of agriculture representative wanted to know if the flood lines would interfere with normal farming practices.

An insurance agent said he has been receiving inquiries from clients along the river about their policies and was not sure how to answer.

A homeowner asked about compensation, if his home suddenly fell within the new floodplain lines.

There were questions about Ontario Power Generation’s influence on the back flow of the Welland River from its hydro canal on the Niagara River.

NPCA’s earlier town hall meetings each drew about 150 people.

NPCA executive director Carmen D’Angelo said “we are very pleased that with the four primary town hall meetings there was good attendance and many of the participants provided feedback by verbal questions and comments, one-to-one discussions, comment cards and e-mails.”

The second set of meetings, he said, will focus on technical aspects so that the public and stakeholders “will have an understanding how we will create the floodplain maps.”

The third set will disclose the findings that will be presented to the NPCA board of directors for approval.

“This will be conducted concurrently with an update on policy associated with the maps,” D’Angelo said.