A recent lawsuit involving the District of Sicamous further’s the Columbia Shuswap Regional District’s argument that the province should be responsible for funding and conducting works to mitigate erosion along the banks of Newsome Creek.
A handful of properties are threatened by eroding creek banks caused by the stream changing its course during the heavy freshets of 2017 and 2018. The creek runs through the community of Sorrento and the most seriously at risk properties are along Caen Road.
Since 2017, the Columbia Shuswap Regional District has made several requests to the provincial government hoping for help with stabilizing the creek walls. Provincial staff have stressed that it is the local government’s responsibility to seek funding for mitigation work through Emergency Management BC (EMBC) and other programs.
Replying to a March 28 letter from CSRD Chair Rhona Martin, Mike Farnworth, B.C.’s Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General, stated the Newsome Creek situation is unfortunate, but provincial legislation places flood hazard management, including erosion along streams, in the hands of local governments and that local governments are responsible for applying for funding to mitigate the hazard. He also states individuals have a responsibility to protect their properties.
Farnworth’s letter states the EMBC had remained engaged on the issue of erosion at Newsome Creek, providing funding for regular monitoring of the erosion and that the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure plans to replace six culverts along Newsome Creek before the Spring of 2020.
The response to the ministry from the CSRD referenced a recent court decision which found the District of Sicamous partially liable after flood mitigation work they participated in that contributed to a subsequent flood severely damaging a businesses’ property.
In his letter to the ministry, the CSRD’s Chief Administration Officer Charles Hamilton used the court case as an example of why local governments are uneasy about stepping into matters of flood mitigation. Hamilton quoted from the judges ruling in the Sicamous court case stating:
“The Water Act is strict. The Province has complete control over the use of water and over any changes to streams, stream beds or bridges spanning streams. That authority is granted to the Province for good reason.”
In his reply to the ministry, Hamilton questioned whether the regional district has the authority to levy a tax collecting the necessary funds in order to undertake erosion mitigation work. He also raised questions of fairness about the regional district spending public funds protecting a small area.