Rising sea levels will require ongoing dike upgrades

·3 min read

Taxpayers are going to have to shell out more in the coming years to ensure Richmond’s dikes are able to withstand rising sea levels.

In a report to the city’s general purposes committee this week, staff has outlined the need to raise the dikes by 4.7 metres before 2100 to protect against sea level rise. Over the last 10 years, the city has dedicated over $130 million to flood protection projects, the report says.

Annual revenue for the drainage and diking utility fee, established in 2003, currently sits at $13.4 million. But in order to accelerate the program to accommodate rising sea levels—with upgrades projected to cost around $1 billion—fees will also go up.

“We’ve already taken action as a council to alleviate the strain from this. But the graph that’s in the (staff) report never shows the option of the sea level going down. The sea level’s going up, and we need to take action,” said Coun. Michael Wolfe.

Staff said at the city’s current pace, it will take about 75 years to implement the full plan. The staff report presented three accelerated options to council. The option recommended by staff would take 50 years, and would require annual revenue for the drainage and diking utility to increase to at least $30 million by 2031. Several faster options would require higher revenue and fees.

Coun. Bill McNulty introduced an amendment to the motion that would see the fee increase delayed by a year in order to incorporate a public consultation and communication plan. He added it would be a way to “give the taxpayer a break” after the recent tax raise incorporating the RCMP and fire-rescue budgets.

“This could be postponed possibly for one year, but adopt(ed) in principle and staff could continue to work on planning for what we’re going to do to increase the flood protection,” said McNulty.

Several councillors were in favour of delaying the implementation and revisiting it, and staff noted that it’s not absolutely necessary to accelerate the program this year. But some councillors said the implementation of the plan should not be delayed.

“I think we have to have the dikes up to snuff—if there are no dikes, there is no Richmond,” said Coun. Carol Day.

The city’s drainage and diking utility fee has increased each year. Most residential properties currently pay about $150 a year in fees. Staff are proposing a six per cent increase for multi-family residential properties (reaching $260 in 2031) and a 12 per cent increase for single-family residential and agricultural properties (reaching $480 in 2031). There will also be a review of possible different rate classes for different sizes and types of properties within that class.

“I’m thinking of someone with a small rancher built years ago, and comparing that to a 20,000 square foot house on a 10-acre parcel that’s selling for eight million dollars right now, so seeing that the rates are the same for those two, or were staff looking into potentially more breakdown in the classes?” Wolfe asked.

Jason Ho, the city’s manager of engineering planning, said that category is complex “due to the broad range of types of uses that those properties involve.” He confirmed that there would be a more in-depth review of that class of properties “over the next year or so.”

For the last five years, new rate classes have been introduced “to provide greater equity between ratepayers and reflect the different levels of demand that properties place on the city’s drainage and diking systems,” according to the staff report. Additional rate classes are being recommended for industrial, commercial and institutional properties, with staff proposing that those larger properties pay higher rates dependent on property size.

The motion to add a consultation and communication phase and delay the fee increase passed with several councillors opposed.

Hannah Scott, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Richmond Sentinel