Fort Vermilion to rebuild flood-damaged homes on higher ground

·3 min read

Fort Vermilion residents whose homes are no longer habitable after their community was flooded in April will be moved into new accommodations built on higher ground.

The houses located in the floodplain along the Peace River are at risk of flooding again, said Mackenzie County reeve Josh Knelson.

"After going through something like that, you'd rather not do it again," Knelson said.

More than 400 residents of the northern Alberta hamlet were forced out of their homes when an ice jam caused the river to overflow in late April.

Most were able to repair the damage and return home, but about 30 people are still living in temporary accommodations, Knelson said.

"It's especially hard for the people that have been displaced right now," Knelson said. "It's been an ongoing nightmare for many, for months on end."

The Alberta government has provided 15 trailers to house residents while their homes are being rebuilt at a cost of $2.6 million, the province said.

Mackenzie County spent $1.4 million to purchase and develop the land where 15 new homes will be built, starting in mid-November.

Those costs aren't covered by Alberta's disaster recovery program (DRP).

The county would like to build 46 additional houses but can't afford to develop more land without government support, Knelson said.

Supplied by Mackenzie County
Supplied by Mackenzie County

The uncertainty has been hard on community members, he said.

"There's definitely people that are getting restless and rightfully so. We don't know exactly how much the province is going to do right now, so we're all waiting."

Long rebuilding process

Most Fort Vermilion residents don't have flood insurance, due to the high cost of premiums.

Those who repair their homes can be refunded through the DRP. Residents have received $1.3 million so far, according to Municipal Affairs.

Applicants still need to pay their bills upfront, which can be hard to manage, said Fort Vermilion resident and business owner, Ray Toews.

"It's been a tough go, psychologically, physically and financially," Toews said.

Toews is in the process of rebuilding his hardware store and winterizing an old property to move into.

"I'm 68 years old. Now I'm going to take on a whacking pile of debt, but I have no option," he said. "If we don't rebuild, we get nothing."

Fellow Fort Vermilion resident Marissa Meneen is stuck in limbo. Her basement had to be gutted after it was flooded by nearly eight feet of water.

"I didn't lose as much as others where they have lost their whole home, but it was still tragic to go through that," said the mother of four.

Marissa Meneen
Marissa Meneen

She and her husband are renting-to-own a house from Boreal Housing, a local housing management agency. The property is located on the floodplain.

The family still doesn't know what the next steps are, Meneen said.

"It's frustrating, not knowing what they're going to do or what I'm able to do to my basement or if it's even going to get fixed or if we do have to move to higher ground."

Relocating families will be expensive, but will cost less than rebuilding after another flood, Knelson said.

"We don't want that money to be spent over and over again. We want to spend it once and avoid having to go through this again, because it's not a whole lot of fun."