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6 years after Thanksgiving Day flood, CBRM at odds with province over disaster aid delays

The Thanksgiving Day flood of 2016 caused nearly $5 million in damages in Cape Breton Regional Municipality and federal-provincial disaster aid of about $1.4 million is still outstanding. (Vaughan Merchant/The Canadian Press - image credit)
The Thanksgiving Day flood of 2016 caused nearly $5 million in damages in Cape Breton Regional Municipality and federal-provincial disaster aid of about $1.4 million is still outstanding. (Vaughan Merchant/The Canadian Press - image credit)

Cape Breton Regional Municipality is still waiting for disaster compensation from a massive flood in Sydney, N.S., more than six years ago — and is disagreeing with the province on the cause of the long wait.

Chief financial officer Jennifer Campbell said provincial officials somehow ruined CBRM's claim for relief after the Thanksgiving Day flood of 2016, and now it has to be rebuilt from scratch.

"The province had actually offered to have a third party try to help the municipality reassemble the file to try to alleviate that burden off of CBRM, recognizing that it was really their fault that the file was in the condition that it's in and that we have to kind of start the process over again," Campbell said.

Remnants of Hurricane Matthew dropped more than 225 millimetres of rain on Sydney that Thanksgiving weekend, causing nearly $5 million in damage.

Campbell said CBRM claimed about $3.5 million on insurance and submitted $1.4 million in other costs to the federal-provincial disaster financial assistance program in 2021.

Tom Ayers/CBC
Tom Ayers/CBC

But last fall, the province told her to resubmit the claim, Campbell said.

"So that means photocopying all of our invoices all over again [and] the supporting documents for payment."

The timing couldn't have been worse, she said, with the news coming just after last fall's post-tropical storm caused even more damage throughout CBRM.

"It's challenging to do that once when, well, we've already done it once, but we're coming into a very busy time of year with budget [and] we were working on forecasts in December, plus trying to respond to Fiona."

Campbell said she isn't sure what happened to the original claim, but it may have been parceled out to various people who were working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"I just think it got to a state where they really didn't know how to reassemble it ... so I think they needed the help to get the file back to the state that they received it in," she said.

Province says claim wasn't completed

Nova Scotia Emergency Management Minister John Lohr said that's not true.

He said CBRM has never officially filed its claim, and asked for and received two deadline extensions because the file was incomplete.

After the 2016 flood, the municipality commissioned a study and decided to build several earthen berms in the Baille Ard forest to slow water coming down the Wash Brook into Sydney.

The flood mitigation work was delayed, but according to the federal rules, all work has to be done before a claim can be submitted, Lohr said.

In addition to the deadline extensions, the province advanced CBRM $900,000 in December as a partial payment.

"We've bent over backwards for CBRM on this, so the suggestion that somehow this is our fault, or our problem, is not correct at all," Lohr said.

Robert Short/CBC
Robert Short/CBC

Campbell said CBRM is grateful for the advance and the final claim is expected to be filed later this month.

In that 2016 storm, municipal infrastructure was impacted by flood waters and downed trees, with some roads and culverts washed away.

Dozens of basements were flooded in homes, a school and a church, and the municipality had to haul away a lot of heavy garbage in the aftermath.

Post-tropical storm Dorian caused a lot less damage in 2019, but Fiona in 2022 was even larger than Matthew.

Fiona costs at $5.7 million and still climbing

Campbell said damage claims from last fall's storm are still coming in, but the total is already over $5.7 million.

She said the municipality doesn't expect to wait more than six years for that financial aid, once all the claims are in.

"I do understand that nationwide there has been a significant amount of events that have triggered [disaster financial assistance] and hopefully the province has the capacity to process these claims quickly," Campbell said.

Lohr said that won't be a problem, as long as everyone follows the disaster assistance program rules.

"It is a good program for the municipalities, but it does come with very strict reporting requirements from the federal government," he said.

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