“Fort-Coulonge shouldn’t be included … We can’t let this slide” – Mayor Gaston Allard - Revised ZIS map causes turmoil, river management inquiry looming

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Added: Wed, 08/14/2019 - 11:29pm
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Allyson Beauregard

MRC PONTIAC AND PONTIAC – On July 16, the Québec government unveiled the revised version of its special intervention zone map (ZIS) following a series of public consultations, including one in Campbell’s Bay on July 4, where
residents and elected officials deemed it inaccurate and exaggerated.
The ZIS places a moratorium on new construction and the reconstruction of buildings destroyed more than 50% by the flood until a concrete action plan is developed.
The map was supposed to cover the 0-20 year flood zone as well as areas affected in 2017 or 2019, but there were many cases where properties that were never flooded were included.
Compensation is available to primary residences to cover 90% of their home’s value, up to a maximum of $200,000, but cottages and non-residents are ineligible.
A small victory
According to Pontiac MNA André Fortin, although the government did correct “part of the problematic situation it had created”, the map is still riddled with errors that will carry significant consequences for those included in the identified zones.
“In the short term, owners cannot go ahead with construction projects. In the long term, house values will likely decrease, so it’s essential that the government properly identifies every single property. Residents can’t afford the government playing fast and loose,” he said, noting the maps can impact future municipal development, limit growth, and potentially reduce the number of homes and
cottages Fortin said the ZIS is delaying home re-entry and repairs. “By requiring
a certified inspector to confirm that the flood damage is less than 50% of the home’s value, a lot of people have to delay work,” he explained.
This delay angers mayors like Gaston Allard of Fort-Coulonge. “We still haven’t received any damage reports back from the Ministry of
Public Security yet,” he emphasized. 
2019 was exceptional
While Allard believes the revised ZIS for the most part accurately portray the areas flooded in his municipality in 2019, he said including that information in the map is unfair.
“Not one house in Fort-Coulonge was flooded in 2017, and many of the homes flooded this year hadn’t been for over 40 years. 2019 was exceptional, so it’s unfair for it to be used to create maps that can drastically impact residents and their properties,” he said. His council is requesting that the entire municipality be removed from the ZIS.
“Gatineau experienced a tornado last year that did a lot of damage. Should it now be considered a tornado zone?” he added. Allard stressed that investigating the cause of the severe flooding should be investigated before other measures are taken.
 “Logically, when an unusual, tragic event happens, the first thing you do is take care of the victims. Once that’s done, you figure out how to stop it from happening again. Finding the source is needed to find solutions. Only then do you move on to considering what fiscally makes sense for the province,” he explained, noting the way the government is moving through the process is unethical and inhumane.
“You can’t just say ‘let’s stop taking care of people and put a pause on them returning home to make sure this doesn’t cost us too much’. That’s not a responsible government, whose first priority should be the people – ensuring they are safe, secure and back in their homes,” he told the Journal.
Allard denounces the disorganization, slow response and lack of empathy and genuine concern from the government. “People are feeling left out and are even having trouble reaching the Ministry on the phone. They all have to sit here and wait on help that doesn’t seem to be coming. The human side of this is completely gone. It’s unacceptable. How can the government not be prepared when [the same thing] happened just two years ago?” he added. 
Municipal strain
Although Fortin has committed to helping residents and municipalities to submit revisions and proper mapping, he said the download of provincial government responsibility for managing revisions onto the backs of small, rural municipalities is
unacceptable given their limited financial and human resources.  
Many of the Pontiac’s municipalities are feeling the strain of the added workload.
With 180 properties wrongly identified, Joanne Labadie, mayor of the Municipality of Pontiac, said the municipal office has received close to
200 emails per week from residents requesting modifications. The revised ZIS only removed about 43% of the wrongly identified properties.
“It’s a huge amount of work here in one of the bigger municipalities in the Pontiac, so I can’t imagine what it’s like for smaller ones with less resources,” she said, highlighting the toll the mapping has taken on the mental health of
residents.
“The government amplified the huge amount of stress, anxiety and trauma many residents affected by the flood were already facing to rebuild their lives and doubled the number of people experiencing it [by wrongly including them in the ZIS],” she explained.  
The situation  in Chichester and L’Isle-aux-Allumettes is similar. “The first week the map came out, our phones just when ballistic. It was getting out of hand so we asked residents to email us instead so we could better triage the inquiries,” said Alicia Jones, the municipalities’ director general, noting most other files have been put on the back burner until this issue is dealt with. “We’ve been run off our feet,” she added.  
Although the revised ZIS eliminated some problem areas, a lot still remain, she said. Both municipalities are submitting their own maps detailing the reality of the flooding in 2019, as are other municipalities like Mansfield.
As of August 1, 125 requests for revision were sent to the Ministry for L’Isle-aux-Allumettes and 65 for Chichester. By the deadline, Jones expects the Allumettes numbers to double.
Inquiry coming?
Many communities along the Ottawa River, including the MRC Pontiac, have passed resolutions calling for an independent inquiry into the river’s management system. On August 2, Catherine McKenna, federal Minister of the Environment and Climate Change, posted on Twitter that she had written her provincial counterparts (QC and ON) about “working together to protect people and property, including the option of an independent review”.
Pontiac MP Will Amos is confident this federal commitment will transform into “some form of independent and comprehensive review”. He said discussions are currently underway “at the highest level” with the federal and both provincial governments to determine the review’s details, mandate and scope.
Residents have until August 19 to notify their municipality of any further ZIS inaccuracies. A final version of the ZIS is expected to be released a few weeks later.