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'We need to learn from this': Halifax residents urge city to fast-track, prioritize emergency planning process


 Flooding has worried Lower Sackville resident Walter Regan for years.

The former president of the Sackville Rivers Association knew a floodplain study was done in 2017 for part of the river that runs through several Halifax communities, including Bedford, N.S., and Lower Sackville, N.S.

But that study, he says, was never adopted by city council.

Unfortunately, the survey proved to be more than prescient, when the Sackville River breached its banks during July’s extreme rainfall, causing widespread damage.

“First and foremost, you have to have a flood plain map and zoning, and don't let the people build there,” says Regan.

Regan says he made that point clear Monday night at a session for the city's Hazard, Risk and Vulnerability Assessment (HRVA), which kicked off public consultations this month.

He says he’s glad to see the process underway.

“Because when a disaster comes, windstorm, fire storm, or flood, they have to have a book that they can go to,” he says.

The HRVA is under the purview of the city’s emergency management division, although no one from the department could do an interview with CTV Tuesday.

But according to the city’s website, the assessment is intended to “increase our understanding of human-, natural- or conflict-caused hazards that exist and how they increase community vulnerability. The recommendations will then be put into use…”

“We want to engage with the community, all across HRM and have a better understanding of what do we have, what do we need, what are the gaps,” says Pamela Lovelace, municipal councilor for the area affected by the suburban wildfire more than three months ago.

She says while the HRVA process started before this summer's emergencies, the floods and the fires put the need front and center.

But some residents say the HRVA doesn’t address how this summer’s emergencies were handled.

“It's a good step in the right direction, but I don't think it's enough,” says Martin Kenward of the Tantallon Wildfire Life Safety Coalition.

The coalition represents neighborhoods hit hardest by the wildfires.

The group has penned letters to both Mayor Mike Savage and Premier Tim Houston calling for participation in what it’s calling a “360-degree review” of what happened.

“The time is now for you to prioritize the safety of citizens in the municipality,” the letter reads.

“The many communities in and adjacent to Upper Tantallon and Hammonds Plains are gravely concerned that the myriad lessons arising from this spring’s devastating wildland fires will be forgotten, ignored, or worse still not even be identified and thereby not acted upon.”

“It would encompass not only things that happened during the fire, after the fire, but that were known before the fire, things related to egress, and communications,” says Kenward.

He adds while the HRVA and incident after action reports already in progress are important, residents want more involvement.

“It’s a process that will allow us to do a retrospective on what happened, what needs to happen, and where we should go,” he says, “we need to learn from this, we need to help our communities, and I think that active engagement is something that should be a new norm.”

Lovelace says city's wildfire after report plan is in its final stages and should be released publicly soon, while she says the province has not said when its examination of the fire response will be finalized.

She says any 360-degree review would have to be initiated by the province as the government body to first respond to the disaster.

“The wildfire was primarily led by the province of Nova Scotia and the Department of Natural Resources and Renewables for the first ten days, so any kind of (review) we would have to have the province lead that, and so I look forward to reading the provincial after action report and ensuring that we understand where their gaps are, so we can work forward together better,” Lovelace adds.

In the meantime, Regan is encouraging as many people as possible to weigh in on the city's HRVA at one of its upcoming public engagement sessions.

“Let's get it done now, come out and tell HRM what you want,” he says, “it’s more than just flood plains, it’s wind storms, it’s vulnerable people….We have to think about what’s going to happen with climate change making more terrible storms. The best restoration is prevention.”

For more Nova Scotia news visit our dedicated provincial page. Top Stories

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