Council waives demolition, building permit fees for those dealing with derecho storm damage

·3 min read
A major windstorm, known as a derecho, blew down trees and damaged homes and hydro equipment across a wide swath of Ontario and parts of western Quebec, leaving tens of thousands of customers without power, as seen in this photo taken on May 24, 2022. (Brian Morris/CBC - image credit)
A major windstorm, known as a derecho, blew down trees and damaged homes and hydro equipment across a wide swath of Ontario and parts of western Quebec, leaving tens of thousands of customers without power, as seen in this photo taken on May 24, 2022. (Brian Morris/CBC - image credit)

Demolition and building permit fees will be waived for Ottawans looking to rebuild after the deadly May 21 derecho, following a motion passed by city council Wednesday.

A second motion that also passed will see Mayor Jim Watson write to the province and have the city designated as an area "specifically affected by a natural disaster." The move will allow residents to apply for help to cover cleanup costs.

"Unfortunately, people are learning the hard way what their insurance does and doesn't cover," said Cumberland Coun. Catherine Kitts, who moved both motions.

The councillor said she's heard quotes as high as $5,000 to remove a single tree, and that the cost won't be covered unless the tree hit a structure.

The windstorm "touched every corner of the city," but battered some areas especially hard, Kitts said.

Farms, homes and businesses sustained "absolutely devastating impacts" and will be recovering for a long time to come, according to the councillor. That's why it's "critical" to appeal to the province for help, Kitts told her colleagues.

The Disaster Recovery Assistance for Ontarians program can be activated after a "sudden, unexpected natural event," the province's website states. Eligible recipients could be reimbursed for cleanup costs, replacing essential property and emergency expenses such as evacuation costs.

However it doesn't replace insurance coverage and insurance payments are deducted from eligible costs, the website explains.

"I think a quick spin through one of the highly-impacted wards wouldn't leave a doubt in anyone's minds that this was a disaster," said Kitts.

No fees for building permits

Speaking to her motion to waive building code fees, she said they would represent an "additional hardship" for those dealing with storm damage.

Council voted to suspend demolition fees and building permit fees, as well as fees for accessing historic building permit records and civic number blades — posts with numbers used to identify rural properties.

The storm will continue to be a topic of discussion at council's next meeting on June 22 when Hydro Ottawa is expected to provide its annual report and several other councillors intend to bring storm-related motions.

Kate Porter/CBC
Kate Porter/CBC

Ahead of that meeting, Rideau-Rockcliffe Coun. Rawlson King filed notice of a motion asking the CEO of Hydro Ottawa to provide a plan to improve communication with the community during prolonged power outages, including neighbourhood-specific information.

It also asks for the plan to examine vulnerabilities in the local power grid and for city staff to consider merging Hydro Ottawa crisis communications with city-run systems.

A motion from Innes Coun. Laura Dudas said religious groups and social organizations wanted to help in the aftermath of the storm, but didn't always know the best way to do so.

It asks city staff consider lessons learned during the derecho recovery effort and to provide specific guidance to help direct community resources where they're most-needed in an emergency.

Council to look at generators

Knoxdale-Merivale Coun. Keith Egli also has a motion calling for city staff to prepare a report on rules around backup generators at residential high-rises and gas stations, looking at what regulatory changes would be needed for them to be widely installed and maintained.

The city has been "scrambling" to understand the rules around generators, said Steve Willis, Ottawa's general manager of planning, real estate and economic development.

There are different rules around generators based on how old a building is, he said.

Watson also weighed in, noting the difficulties residents had getting gas, and the people left stranded in tall buildings.

"We saw too many examples of … seniors in particular, who were in highrises 12, 13, 14 storeys high that just could not come down to go grocery shopping, let alone go back up the stairs," said the mayor.

WATCH | Highrise residents share frustrations after storm:

The city is working on a climate resiliency plan, along with the NCC and officials in Gatineau, Que., according to Willis.

He said it's been made a "priority" and should be done early in the next term of council.

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