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Hurricane recovery enters Phase 2

Phase 1 homes are still coming down, but PAB property owners in the impact zone have received notice of buyout and demolition

The back of Todd and Karen Kettle’s home. Their house was severely damaged by Hurricane Fiona, but until the Port aux Basques impact zone was announced on June 16, the couple believed that their home would be repaired. – © René J. Roy / Wreckhouse Press Incorporated

By Rosalyn Roy Senior Staff Reporter – with files from René J. Roy

PORT AUX BASQUES — Homes destroyed beyond repair by Hurricane Fiona last September are still coming down as part of the Phase One recovery effort, but a letter from Attorney General John Hogan (Minister of Justice and Public Safety), informed Port aux Basques property owners that they would also be losing their homes as part of Phase Two. A copy of the letter was shared with Wreckhouse Press. Another 57 homes and two businesses located in the designated Hurricane Fiona Impact Zone (HFIZ) are slated for buyout and demolition. According to the projected schedule, the process is expected to last until into May 2024. The letter stated that the HFIZ was designated by multiple departments, with consideration from the Town of Channel-Port aux Basques, and using ‘objective, evidenced based considerations’. Owners with property in the HFIZ will no longer be able to own or maintain them, and no new structures can be built within that area. The compensation package is almost identical to what homeowners received under Phase One. There is a replacement value for the home set at a minimum of $200 per square foot, based on a detailed assessment, and another $30,500 for the land. However, under Phase Two, the property owners will not be compensated for the contents of their properties, as they have ample opportunity to remove all contents. Once property owners received the letter, they were then invited to the Bruce II Sports Centre for an in-person meeting with DFAA (Disaster Financial Assistance Arrangements) representatives. “We’ve been waiting for this envelope since Fiona,” said Karen Kettle, a resident of Kyle Lane, which leads to Grand Bay West beach. Fiona hit the beach hard, destroyed the elevated foot path and even reshaped the beach head. “We expected the envelope back in September, so we were mentally prepared for what was coming. But it still was heartbreaking when he handed us the envelope and said that you lie within the impact zone and that your house is slated to be demolished.” Up until then, Kettle believed that her home could be repaired. “I actually called to check on the status of a repair assessment that was done on our home. I was contacted by the government when Fiona happened. Brenda Manning, I believe the lady was, and she told me that they were going to do repairs to my home, which I thought was utterly ridiculous because of where my house is located and she stated at the time there was no money for land repairs,” said Kettle. “I said to her at the time, if you don’t repair the land behind our house, it was no good to repair my home because it was not going to stand another storm and she said that would be something totally different, and she couldn’t speak to if there would ever be any land repaired behind my home. So in March, they called me with an estimate to repair my home. It was $97,000 to repair my home, and I reviewed the report, and we noticed that they had missed a lot of items required to repair my home. So she told me that they would get the contractor involved again, and he would do up a quote on the items that were missed, then they would send it back to us to sign off on, and then we could repair our home.” Kettle kept asking for updates, but was repeatedly told that the repairs hadn’t been approved yet. “I was emailing anybody that would listen to me. I emailed (MHA) Andrew Parsons (Burgeo – La Poile) every two weeks. I emailed (Mayor) Brian Button every two weeks. I’ve emailed (Senior Project Manager, Gov NL) Corey Greeley. I’ve had zoom calls with Corey Greeley, and even last Monday (June 12), I emailed Corey Greeley to ask him the status of the vulnerable areas, and he told me no decision was made, and that when a decision was made, there would be a public announcement. That was a Monday and the following Tuesday, I’m notified that I have a meeting with government.” Kettle believes a decision had been made when she was inquiring about repairs, but they were unable to disclose it beforehand. The estimated timeline released by the department states that following the June notifications, the adjustors and contractors will begin work on Phase 2 homes this September and October, with their final reports delivered in January 2024. The Kettles and other Phase 2 property owners will receive their packages in February and March, and disbursement of funds should take place next April and May. “They’ve got a timeline, which I don’t want to say I’m upset with, but I’m a little bit disappointed with (the timeline), because we’ve already waited nine months. I felt we should have been in Phase One. I wasn’t in Phase One. I’m in Phase Two, unfortunately, but I’ve got to wait again and I’ve got to stay in my house another winter. Last winter was scary. We slept with our bags packed and with one eye open. The forecast was on every night, and now I’ve got to do the same. We evacuated three times last winter. One day was a very sad evacuation. We had a storm surge Christmas Eve and Christmas morning, and on Christmas Eve, my husband wanted to leave and I said, ‘I’m not.’ I cried and I said, ‘It’s Christmas Eve. Everybody else gets to stay in their homes and have Christmas, and I’ve got to leave.’ Christmas morning, he said, ‘Okay, now we got to leave because the water is getting high.’ So we’ve got to do the same again this winter.” The Kettles and other property owners in the HFIZ will not be compensated for any repairs they undertake to remain in their home or secure it while they plan their futures. Whether or not the Kettles will remain in Port aux Basques is not something they’ve yet decided. “Once we lose our home, that was our only tie to town. Our kids are grown and gone. Todd’s mom is gone. So we could pick right up and go. But now we bought our garage two years ago, we’re kind of tied to stay. Who’s going to buy my garage? So it’s like we’ve got no choice but to stay,” said Kettle. “I’m a little bit stressed over what am I going to do, because I know about what money I’m going to be given based on this letter, but it’s going to be so long coming. If something comes up, somebody decides to sell, I can’t buy a home until the money is in my account to buy a home. I don’t want to go get a mortgage with today’s interest rates and start a loan payment. We moved in this house September of 1995. This home was built by Todd, him and his father. We had a $25,000 mortgage. We’ve put every paycheck in our home for the last 30 years to make it what we’ve got.” Being included in Phase One would’ve made things a little easier for the Kettles, who feel somewhat left behind. “Had I been in Phase One, things would have been different. There were more houses available. The first lots of land went. Now you don’t have much to choose from.”

Planning for future storms Town Manager Leon MacIsaac said that the hurricane prompted the town to re-evaluate the distance from the water for construction. “Based on the effects of Hurricane Fiona, there was a need to expand that area, that buffer zone to try to limit future instance of damage where possible. We can’t forecast the next hurricane, and it may bring 10 metre waves, even 20 metres. We don’t know. Maybe even higher,” said MacIsaac. “I know a couple of years ago, I think the buoy inside the harbor recorded 93 foot waves, so that didn’t come towards inland. It was kind of swept by, which we’re very fortunate, but still in Hurricane Fiona water came over top of the lighthouse in Channel. If Channel Head wasn’t there, there would have been many more homes, there would’ve been more lives lost because, of course, even though warnings were given out, not everybody left.” MacIsaac doesn’t consider the 11-month timeline to find a new home entirely reasonable. “Maybe a long time stay in your house, but is eleven months enough time to find another home? I don’t think it is,” said MacIsaac. “I think if you gave them two years to make up their mind and if you moved it sooner, so be it. But if you had to build another home, that’s not happening. First you got to find a builder and have it completed in those eleven months. I have some current concerns myself. I don’t know if members of council do, but speaking on behalf of myself, and I built a home last number of years, quite a few, four homes previously. I know how long it takes to build a home. If you could find a builder now, tell them to start and everything, you’re not going to be finished in a year, not enough to move into, I don’t think, unless they’re really fast finished.” Under Phase Two, an additional 59 structures will come down within the next 9 to 12 months. “That’s been discussed at length as to whether or not it’s sufficient or if it’s overkill. It’s hard to tell, but coming up to that buffer zone takes quite a bit of technology to figure that out. With Lidar (Light Detection and Ranging), which measures grades of your properties – and it’s not something that can be done quickly sometimes, but they’ve moved fairly quickly since September because there’s such a need to get that area addressed,” said MacIsaac. “I don’t know if it’s the final zone. Right now it is, but there may be more homes to be considered at a later time. There may not be. Not quite sure, but it is large scope work. Maybe next storm may produce more damage. We don’t know. It’s only right now, based on the last storm, this is where they feel the line should be.” MacIsaac said that the Town had no input in the HFIZ boundaries beyond the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Fiona. “The Town was involved in the initial stages after the storm of what areas were affected and what homes may be impacted by future events The impact zone was reviewed by provincial staff and the buffer was completed by them through a series of processes we were not involved in. The final analysis and associated buffer (including impacted homes) were not provided to the Town until residents were contacted. We did not know what homes were on the list prior to the release from the province.” MacIsaac also said that there will be plenty of lots available for those in Phase Two who wish to rebuild. The Dennis Road subdivision is being expanded. “We had 15 lots available from the initial phase. There’s five homes or six lots that have expressed interest in billing out. So there’s nine leftovers from those. There’s a further 53 lots under development, and if the demand is there, we’ll put in more,” said MacIsaac. “Interest from private developers for a couple of commercial buildings, we’ve re-zoned, I wouldn’t be able to tell you what stage they’re at, but the province has made it known that if a private developer does step forward, they will renovate the buildings because a lot of people may not want a home. A lot of people may want just an apartment.” The current construction for the affordable housing complex atop Army Hill will be completed within a matter of weeks. “We have a list of people that we put out there some time ago. I think there’s 20 or 30 people who are interested in those eight units. Now saying that, you have to meet the criteria for income limits, of course. And then you’ve got to figure out between those income limits, how those 20 or 30 people, how do you get them selected to be defined, which is different. It’s not an easy process, and no matter whatever the final number is, somebody may not agree with it, but it has to be done,” said MacIsaac. “Right now they’re just waiting on some flooring products. Exterior landscaping has got to be done, be paved, which can’t be done until the end of the month, so it’ll probably be late July before they’re readily available.” The Town initially helped to co-ordinate relief efforts for the entire region, all the way down the coast to Rose Blanche – Harbour Le Cou, but that was only a short term arrangement and is no longer the case. “I know there is a donation committee, and in that donation committee, there’s companies who made donations for specific purposes, not to go to specific groups, but they want specific things done. So the committee has to make sure they follow the request of that donation as well,” said MacIsaac. “Of course, it’s a bit of a time-consuming process. Again, there’s a lot of decisions to be made. How that’s going to unfold? People may be impatient by that, but it does take time. It’s not an easy decision and you have to make sure it’s done in the best interest of everyone as well.” MacIsaac hopes that residents will choose to remain as opposed to relocating entirely. “We certainly don’t want to lose any of our residents for any reason. We’ll make it an enjoyable community. The unfortunate part, coastline areas which people seem to want to hang on to, aren’t that attractive anymore. But we do hope that they want to stay in town and we’ll try to fight them with the best scenario,” said MacIsaac. “They can stay here, whether it’s in Grand Bay West, or alternate locations where possible. We’re just not going to be able to put you back near the coastline. You can see the ocean, just not live near it.” Some residents have expressed unhappiness with the current location of new plots and have suggested the possibility of Hardy’s Arterial but MacIsaac said that area is unsuitable for home development. “It’s a lot of granite, a lot of heavy bog that equates to quite a bit of expense to put anything out there. You’ve got to run your water and sewer services, which don’t currently exist in the area, and the pressure limits don’t currently exist there as well. It’s fairly high. The pressure at the Bruce II Sports Complex has a pump in the building and so does the new Marine Atlantic building, because it has to meet certain pressure limits for capacity. So when you start putting residential there, you’re going to need more pressure boosting services that way,” explained MacIsaac. “We haven’t given a lot of strong thought to a lot of granite because it’s very expensive to blast. Not only do they have to blast for the main service, you also have to blast for the service leads to each home, which can accumulate to be quite pricey, and then it doesn’t become feasible to put that kind of lot in there as well.”

Process for property owners On June 21, Danielle Barron, Communications Director for the Dept. of Justice and Public Safety, issued the following statement. “Individual assessments will be conducted on each property in the impact zone to determine a replacement value for the home. “The overall timeline for the entire process is estimated to be about 9-12 months. As compensation packages are finalized, residents will have 90 days from receipt of their financial compensation package to move from the impact zone. If they are building a new home, they will have one year to move. “The impact zone includes 139 homes – 82 homes that were a total loss that have been dealt with previously, as well as the 57 homes and two businesses that are currently being addressed. The zone includes a number of streets and was based on objective, evidenced based considerations including the debris line evident post-Fiona, aerial photography, and on-site verification.” The statement made it clear that property owners in the HFIZ will not be given a choice. “At the end of the process, if property owners are unable or unwilling to conclude the purchase/sale transaction for their property, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador will proceed with expropriation. “Temporary accommodations will not be provided to residents of the homes in the impact zone, as they will receive their financial compensation prior to being displaced. Emergency, short-term accommodations are available for people as necessary when a storm/serious inclement weather is pending. “In the event of a large-scale natural disaster, the Government of Canada provides financial assistance to provincial and territorial governments through the Disaster Financial Assistance Arrangements (DFAA) program administered by the Department of Justice and Public Safety. When response and recovery costs exceed what individual provinces or territories could reasonably be expected to bear on their own, the DFAA provides the Government of Canada with a fair and equitable means of assisting provincial and territorial governments. “From those early days after Hurricane Fiona, the Prime Minister, Premier, Mayor and others have been clear that it will take years for the community and region to fully recover from this devastating event. Together, there is a commitment to rebuild the community but it will take time. “All property owners within the impact zone have been notified and provided with information outlining the process and estimated timelines. Individuals with inquiries related to Hurricane Fiona may contact the Fiona Response Line at 709-695-9871 or email FionaResponse@gov.nl.ca for assistance.” There remains little information outside of town for the coastal communities. Properties were lost or damaged from Rose Blanche to Margaree, and some have been demolished under Phase One. “This is specific to the Town of Channel-Port aux Basques. The Provincial Government continues to collaborate with the Federal Government, other South West Coast communities and community partners on outstanding matters,” stated Barron via email. Meanwhile confusion around the HFIZ and Phase Two persists, even in Port aux Basques. Still more homes will be removed in the heavily damaged East End Channel area, but still others are not, despite being closer to and lower to the shoreline. One anonymous homeowner said that homes across the street are now gone, and their own home is now far more exposed to future weather events and storm surges. Some of their neighbours have received notice of their pending buyout, but their home was not designated as being in the HFIZ despite their property having sustained damaged during Hurricane Fiona. “I don’t understand it,” said the resident. “Nobody understands it.”

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