MMAH updates regarding DRAO for municipalities affected by May 21 derecho

·7 min read

According to a posting on the Limerick Township website on Aug. 22, the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing had provided an update on the Disaster Recovery Assistance for Ontarians program that municipalities affected by the May 21 derecho had applied for in the storm’s aftermath. Limerick Township’s clerk and treasurer Victoria Tisdale, Wollaston Township’s clerk/administrator Bernice Crocker, George Offshack, the president of the Limerick Waterways Ratepayers Association and Pat Stallaert, president of the Steenburg Lake Community Association comment on this update.

The MMAH provided this update about DRAO on Aug. 22, with respect to the townships that had applied for it in the aftermath of the May 21 derecho. It was sent in an email from the MMAH to Tisdale. In it, the MMAH stresses that the government’s top concern is Ontario residents’ safety and well being, and that DRAO is oriented to the essentials, like making primary residences damaged by the derecho safe and habitable again where insurance coverage isn’t enough to address those basic needs. They clarify that under the program, tree cleanup is eligible only to make the property safe and enable access, and does not provide property owners with damage to treed areas that are situated away from the primary residence.

A derecho is a widespread, long-lived wind storm that is associated with a band of rapidly moving showers or thunderstorms, with resultant damage directed in one direction along a relatively straight path. The derecho that hit Limerick and other parts of eastern Ontario and Quebec on May 21 had winds up to 190 kilometres per hour and chunks of hail in some areas. It affected almost half of Canada’s population, including Limerick, resulting in downed trees, property damage, massive hydro outages that affected approximately 1.1 million people and at least 11 deaths. It was the sixth costliest in Canada in terms of insurance claims, with a total figure of $875 million. This catastrophic weather event led Limerick to declare a state of emergency and to convene an emergency meeting of the Community Emergency Management Coordinator disaster management team on May 24 to review what had happened and how to move forward. The township had a barbecue, hosted by the township council, to show appreciation for those who assisted in the storm cleanup on Aug. 20.

After the May 21 derecho, the MMAH says they sent out 20 Provincial Disaster Assessment Teams to assess the damage, and that they found that most of the damage to private property was insured, although some larger properties had damages inflicted by fallen trees that were not insured.

“Based on the findings of the assessment teams, the province activated DRAO in an area of Uxbridge that was impacted by a tornado generated by the storm. No other areas were identified that met the activation criteria,” they said in the update.

The MMAH went on to say they understand the hardship caused by the storm across Ontario and that following the derecho, over 2,000 Ontarians accessed temporary financial support to procure food and other necessities through emergency social assistance. They then provided two links; one with more information on emergency social assistance at www.ontario.ca/emergencyassistance and another link for more information regarding DRAO at www.ontario.ca/disasterassistance and invited the townships that were not activated, like Limerick, to provide this information to their residents who may be wondering why their township was not activated as a result of the May 21 storm. In addition to Limerick, none of the municipalities in Hastings County that faced damage from the derecho, including Tudor and Cashel and Wollaston, were activated for the DRAO.

Tisdale told The Bancroft Times on Aug. 23 that while DRAO was not activated by the province, the Municipal Disaster Relief Assistance was activated and that is how they’ve been able to clean up the township and ensure the safety of residents and visitors on their roads.

“We’ve had a brush drop off location since the storm that has been available to the public 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We have also had cleanup crews working since the storm to clean all the ditches, lanes and roads,” she says.

Tisdale says the municipality cannot assist with private property cleanup as that must go through the owners’ insurance, and that different policies would mean different coverages for residents, depending on what they paid for.

“The municipality will continue to address storm damage on roads and any other municipal property, such as beaches or parks,” she says.

The MDRA is financial assistance for municipalities to recover from damages caused by natural disasters. Eligible costs include capital costs to repair public infrastructure or property, operating costs that go above regular budgets and are needed to protect public health, safety or access to essential services.

The DRAO is for non-municipal entities and allows private property owners to possibly recover costs after a natural disaster. Ontarians who are eligible for DRAO could be reimbursed for; cleanup expenses, costs to repair or replace essential property and basic emergency expenses like evacuation travel costs.

Crocker told The Bancroft Times on Aug. 28 that it was unfortunate that the MMAH had chosen not to activate DRAO for Wollaston, as she said that places and properties in Wollaston were affected by the derecho but she believes that Tudor and Cashel and Limerick were even more greatly impacted.

“Wollaston Township has received a few calls regarding numerous trees lost and an individual with a building lost. The individual with the lost building was provided a copy of the Ministry guidelines and the forms to apply for funding. The individual that lost numerous trees was advised to contact the MMAH in this regard in the hopes that the Ministry may have some other type of funding assistance available,” she says.

Crocker says that Wollaston does not have the financial means to assist individuals who lost numerous trees and require landscaping for the cleanup and replacement of new trees, and she hopes that those individuals’ insurance coverage will take care of the damage. She says that Wollaston did open a brush collecting area behind the public roads department for stakeholders, including contractors, to deposit brush. She says the township is in the final stages of having this debris mulched and removed from municipal property.

“Wollaston plans to apply for the MDRA through MMAH in the hopes of recovering some of the costs incurred during the May 21 event, but based on Ministry guidelines, no township will receive 100 per cent of the costs,” she says.

Stallaert thought that the MMAH update on DRAO was disturbing news, and they were not yet aware of the MMAH decision regarding DRAO.

“The SLCA certainly supports both our host townships [Limerick and Tudor and Cashel] in their efforts to seek relief from the province following the massive windstorm of May 21 of this year. We hope that this is just a misunderstanding or a technicality that can be worked out quickly, because there is not denying the amount of damage that took place and if that storm wasn’t enough to qualify, it makes you wonder what is?” he says.

Offshack said that despite DRAO not being activated for Limerick and any other municipality in Hastings County, that Limerick staff had done a good job of applying for funding to reimburse most of the nearly $300,000 in expenses due to the storm damage and subsequent cleanup.

Offshack also brought up that the funding from DRAO was for primary residences [as well as for small, owner operated businesses, small owner operated farms and not-for-profit organizations], and with only a small number of damaged dwellings in Limerick adhering to those criteria, he was of the opinion that it didn’t make much difference that the DRAO wasn’t activated for Limerick and Hastings County’s other municipalities.

“Most of the damage would have been ineligible anyway. I personally have four large trees partially down around my cottage that I will be hiring a professional to finish getting them safely on the ground in October before the winter snows. Guess it is an expense that I will just have to bear. From discussions with friends and neighbours, most feel the same way. All part of the ‘cottage experience,’” he says. “On the other hand, there are a handful of cottagers currently battling their insurance companies on whether their cottages are repairable or need to be replaced.”

Michael Riley, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Bancroft Times