By Keith Lacey
The director for rural Oliver in the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen (RDOS) is expecting a large crowd to attend a public meeting he has organized that will allow all local residents negatively affected by this spring’s massive flooding and high water to voice their frustration and concerns.
Terry Schafer, the director of Area C on the RDOS board of directors and a former four-term town councillor with the Town of Oliver, is expecting a full house on Wednesday, Aug. 23 at the Oliver Community Centre.
Schafer said the biggest reason he organized the public meeting is because so many of the constituents he represents have voiced concerns about the flooding and told him they thought holding a public meeting would be beneficial.
“This will be an open public forum,” said Schafer. “The purpose of the meeting will be to allow local residents who were negatively affected by the massive spring rainfall and subsequent flooding in late May to openly express their concerns.”
Senior management from the RDOS, Town of Oliver, Ministry of Environment and local MLA Linda Larson have been notified about the meeting and are expected to be in attendance on Aug. 23, said Schafer.
Janine Dougall, the new public works manager with the RDOS, will also be in attendance, said Schafer. “I think it’s important that we have some key people in attendance to be able to answer some of the important questions that citizens are going to ask in relation to the May flooding,” said Schafer.
Schafer said the meeting won’t be about blaming anyone for what happened as numerous subdivisions in and around the Town of Oliver and surrounding area suffered serious flooding, but about listening to the concerns of citizens.
“What I hope happens as a result of the meeting is that we listen to the concerns of those who were negatively affected and hopefully we can come up with some mitigation plans to try and take steps to prevent similar problems in the future,” he said. “Hopefully, we can start working towards putting a plan in place that would prevent so many people being negatively affected next time we get high water and flooding.”
Schafer did note that most experts agree the spring flooding across large segments of the Okanagan Valley in May “were a one in 200 year event” and the odds of extensive flooding and extreme high water across such a large region are very remote.
“These public meetings often take on a life of their own, but it’s my feeling that if we get enough critical mass, some real good ideas will come out of the woodwork,” he said. “And that’s why I want senior staff from the Town and RDOS to be there because they can listen to those good ideas and hopefully some of them can be put in place moving forward. If we get enough good ideas, hopefully some kind of mitigation efforts might come out of the meeting.”
Personally, Schafer said he would like to see the entire Okanagan River dredged as the high water levels resulting from record rain and spring runoff caused damage to the banks and resulted in dangerously high water levels.
“I would like a discussion about getting the river dredged … as the water is so much higher than it used to be,” he said. “With the water running so high and so fast, it’s affected the banks and a lot of the water has started to run a course of its own. “Something will have to be done in my opinion.” Hundreds of homeowners from River Road, Willowbrook, Fairview, Testalinda, Vaseux Lake and the Hester Creek area suffered damage to their homes and property as a result of the record spring flooding, said Schafer.
Schafer reiterated that Mother Nature was solely responsible for the record high water and flooding, but allowing citizens to voice their concerns and provide possible solutions in a public forum can only be beneficial.
“I can only hope that positive action will result from the meeting and it certainly isn’t going to hurt to listen to what people have to say,” he said.
Schafer said he and other directors with the RDOS would be sharing their concerns relating to the spring flooding with provincial leaders at the upcoming Union of British Columbia Municipalities (UBCM) annual meeting in late September.
“We get to meet with ministers directly at that meeting and there’s no time like now to connect with our provincial leaders and share with them the concerns of our residents who were so negatively affected by the spring flooding,” he said.
Schafer will chair the meeting on Aug. 23 and he’s confident there will be a good crowd in attendance. “I’m really hoping some great ideas will come out of holding a public meeting and I’m pretty sure we will have a good turnout,” he said.
The meeting will begin at 6 p.m. and anyone planning to attend is urged to arrive early to get a good seat.