After the flood: preparing for the clean-up - Slow recession takes its toll

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Added: Wed, 06/05/2019 - 2:31pm
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Allyson Beauregard

MRC PONTIAC & PONTIAC – Although the flood has reached its peak, water levels are slow to recede, and continue to plague the region.
The peak was reached in the Coulonge area on May 11 (109.17 meters above sea level), but nearly three weeks later, levels only declined by around 32 inches (108.35 m), a far cry from 106.4 m, the average normal level in the summer. From May 20-26, the water receded by 15 cm, an average of 2.14 centimeters per day, worrying residents, municipalities, and businesses about how long the
high waters will last. Many people still haven’t been able to return to their homes and numerous roads remain closed and damaged.
According to Michael Sarich, senior water resources engineer with the OttawaRiver Regulation Planning Board (ORRP), significant rainfall and releases from northern
reservoirs that had reached dangerously high levels are to blame for the slow decline. With no significant rainfall in the forecast and reservoir releases slowing, Sarich says more rapid declines will soon be experienced, but levels are not expected to reach average thresholds before mid-June. 
Businesses and events
Many businesses are feeling the pain of the flooding, whether it be because of flooded headquarters, delayed and indeterminate starts to their seasons, or access road closures.
Jim Coffey, owner of Esprit Rafting in Davidson, described the situation watersport businesses on the Ottawa River faced.
Aside from his business’ main property being flooded and unreachable by vehicle, Coffey was also impacted by the ban on Ottawa River boat traffic that was just lifted May 30.
“We’ve been pretty good at persevering though,” said Coffey, noting he was using alternate waterways like the Petawawa River for his operations.
The flood has resulted in huge financial losses for his business, said Coffey; unable to officially open because his base camp is unreachable, cancellations because clients are unable to relocate to other waterways, “undersubscribed” trips, unexpected renovations to his new B&B because of damage and expenses to save it, and so on.
“In some cases, we are running at a loss in order to keep our reputation and deliver our services to customers … this all happened at the beginning of the season when cash flow is at its lowest,” said Coffey, noting that transporting clientele out of the region also impacted the local economy.
As a positive, Coffey said the Pontiac’s three rafting companies worked together to solve the problem despite being competitors.  
Le Patro in Mansfield had to cancel its spring programming because the organization’s grounds were severely flooded. The Quyon Jamfest, one of
the municipality’s biggest fundraisers, was cancelled for the same reason. (See p. 7)
“Decontamination experts were on site on June 2 with a large team in order to disinfect all buildings,” said Marc Frappier, Le Patro director, noting the organization’s St-Jean Jean Baptiste celebration and summer camp are expected to proceed as usual. 
Clean-up
With hundreds of thousands of sandbags to remove, berms and dykes to de-construct, and roads and their infrastructure compromised, the clean-up phase of the 2019 flood is expected to be long, labor intensive, and costly. 
According to Joanne Labadie, mayor of the Municipality of Pontiac, in Québec the military is only permitted to remove what they helped install. “Anything they didn’t touch, they are not allowed to remove,” she said, noting that unlike Ontario, the army was unable to help with residential sandbagging, only able to protecting municipal infrastructure.
Municipalities and residents will be forced to handle the remainder of the workload themselves and possibly call on volunteers who Labadie says have already been stretched to the limits.
Labadie estimates the flood has cost Pontiac about $300,000 to date, although some material like the gravel used to build a temporary road to the Community Centre and a dyke on Ferry Road in Quyon can be repurposed.
In Bristol, according to Councillor Phil Holmes, the flood has so far cost the municipality “well into six figures” without including future
clean-up costs— a burden on small municipalities because of their relatively small operating budgets. “We’re a bit nervous because there are no guarantees on provincial compensation [for these expenses],” he said.
Holmes stressed that clean-up will be a long process, “It could take as long as next summer for things to be close to normal again.”
Disposing of sandbags and flooding debris
With the water still high, many residents must leave sandbags in place, but some removal has begun. Some municipalities are using the precautionary principle and treating all used sandbags as contaminated material, while others are relying on residents to use good judgment.  Québec’s Ministry of the Environment states that in the absence of obvious contamination (odors, oil, etc.), residents should apply the principle of 3 R’s: reuse, recycle and recovery.
“We are following the recommendations of the Ministry and telling residents that they can either keep sandbags and store them for future use [if there are no signs of contamination] or return them intact to the municipal transfer site for proper disposal,” said Alicia Jones, director general of L’Isle-aux-Alumettes and Chichester.
Mansfield is advising residents to do the same and transport sandbags or loose sand to the municipal sand
pit. In Fort-Coulonge, residents are asked to drop off sandbags behind the Town Hall where they will be disposed of in the future.
Bristol cautions residents to be careful when handling sandbags that have come into contact with the floodwaters by wearing gloves and long-sleeve shirts and transporting them to access ways where the municipality can collect and dispose of them. Holmes noted that because of its natural characteristics, once left out in the elements, sand will lose any contamination; however, the bags will not.
As for flooding debris, many municipalities are accepting the materials at their transfer sites free of charge or setting out bins in certain locations. At the May 15 meeting, the MRC Pontiac’s Council of Mayors resolved to ask the MRC to assess the possibility of coordinating a collection of flood-related residual materials. This is still in discussion.
Residents should contact their municipalities for information about debris
disposal, sandbag removal and collection.
Preparing for re-integration
Julien Gagnon, MRC Pontiac Fire and Public Safety Coordinator, said he has given the firefighters of the most affected municipalities a crash course on how to proceed with home inspections when it comes time for residents to return home in order to speed up the process. Some inspections have already begun, as well as in Pontiac.
“The most important aspect of the inspection is to inform the residents that any electrical component or other main units (like a furnace) that were touched by water must be inspected and either replaced or repaired by a qualified technician,” said Gagnon, stressing that the MRC is still advocating for the Ministry of Public Security to establish a temporary office in the Pontiac to aid flood victims.