UBCM call for more wildfire resiliency funding, BC to take over dikes

Climate adaptation concerns front-and-centre at Union of B.C. Municipalities’ annual convention this week in Vancouver

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With another record-breaking wildfire season as a backdrop and devastating flooding in recent years fresh in B.C. communities’ minds, municipalities will consider a slate of resolutions at their annual convention this week demanding more help from the B.C. government.

The resolutions come with a warning that wildfires and flooding — and other weather-related events such as droughts and extreme heat episodes — are expected to increase in frequency and intensity, in part, driven by climate change.

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One resolution calls for the province to put up more money to help communities increase wildfire resiliency and another for the province to take back responsibility for more than 1,100 kilometres of dikes that provide flood protection. Another resolution calls, simply, for more funding to help local governments with climate adaptation costs.

Local governments, which provincial governments have made responsible for much of the wildfire and flood risk reduction work, have said for years they can’t pay the huge costs they face.

Votes on the resolutions will begin Wednesday morning at the convention in Vancouver.

“Everything revolves around funding. Our budgets are strained just with the day-to-day infrastructure issues,” 100 Mile House Mayor Maureen Pinkney said Monday, the first day of the weeklong convention.

After taking care of priorities such as maintaining water and sewer infrastructure, communities such as hers simply can’t handle the additional costs to prepare for disasters and ratchet-up their climate resiliency, said Pinkney, who spoke on a panel Monday on economic resiliency.

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In 2017, the B.C. Interior town of 2,000 had to be evacuated for two weeks because of the threat of wildfire, and in 2021, homes were again evacuated in the area.

This year, wildfires have devastated other parts of the province. Hundreds of properties have been destroyed by fire, tens-of-thousands of people have had to flee and smoke has blanketed large swaths of the province.

Among the communities that were hit the hardest this year was West Kelowna where a wildfire swept through part of the city, with embers travelling across Okanagan Lake and hitting Kelowna as well. More than 180 homes and buildings were destroyed or damaged.

A resolution from West Kelowna calls for wildfire prevention funding from the province to be increased, noting the province spends much more money on fighting fires than reducing risk. Risk can be reduced by thinning and pruning forests and removing dry material from the forest floor in and around communities. Thought costly, it’s designed to keep fire on the ground, away from the upper reaches of the tree canopy where it can spread rapidly and burn more intensely.

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The resolution also calls for a change to the province’s grant program, from a competition among communities to an allocation-based formula to reduce red tape and allow for future planning.

The resolution on dikes calls for the province to take back responsibility downloaded in 2003 to municipalities. The resolution forwarded by Abbotsford says the administrative and financial resources required for local governments to undertake responsibilities for diking are an increasingly unsustainable burden on local governments with no dedicated funding sources from senior government. A 2021 Postmedia investigation found dozens of B.C. communities need beefed-up flood and wildfire protections totalling at least $13 billion.

Princeton Mayor Spencer Coyne supports the province taking back responsibility for dikes. His community was one of those hit by devastating flooding in 2021.

“The province definitely needs to take diking authority back. Since they downloaded that on us, it’s been a mess. We’re struggling,” Coyne said.

The province and the federal government also need to prioritize funding where it’s needed most, instead of simply putting up grant money for which communities must compete, added Coyne, who was also on the economic resiliency panel.

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“It has to be based not on politics. It has to be based on science and it’s got to be based on facts,” he said.

Other resolutions that will be considered this week include calling on the province to bring in a new law that will prohibit strata and landlords from disallowing lifesaving temperature controls, including portable or window air conditioners.

A heat dome in summer 2021, where temperatures reached the high 40 C mark in some areas of the province, killed 619 people.

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