Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Alberta to buy flood-zone homes

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BRAGG CREEK, Alta. -- The Alberta government is offering homeowners in floodways a chance to get out.

The owners of about 250 homes in six southern communities flooded in June are being given the option to sell out to the provincial government.

Even if houses weren't damaged, owners are eligible for a buyout worth the tax-assessed value of their home.

The cost of the program could run as high as $175 million.

"We know that floodway development is dangerous. Development in these areas puts lives at risk and is an ongoing risk to taxpayers as well," Municipal Affairs Minister Doug Griffiths said Thursday.

"I've equated it many times to building on the train tracks. This new policy will allow Albertans in the impacted floodways another option to rebuild their lives and will provide protection for all Albertans."

Griffiths said the government will pay 100 per cent of this year's property-tax assessed value.

More than 100 of the affected homes are in High River, 57 are in Medicine Hat, 50 are in Calgary and another 36 are in Bragg Creek.

Any homes the government buys are likely to be destroyed or sold and moved from the flood area, he said.

"The way that this program is set up it is my anticipation that there will be very, very few people who will not take the 100 per cent assessment -- take their value and move to another location," he said.

"We want to make sure we take the home... out of the floodway. Whether or not that means the home gets torn down or picked up and relocated... we'll work on that on a case-by-case basis."

Homeowners do not have to accept the deal and can still receive funding to rebuild or repair their homes, but the property will not qualify for future funding if another flood strikes.

The offer does not apply to the hard-hit Hamptons neighbourhood in High River. After the Highwood River overflowed its banks, water filled the area. Homes sat under water for several weeks and will need to be torn down. Some owners there have said they want a buyout, so they have the financial freedom to make a decision about their future.

"I would have taken (a buyout)," said Jamie Ellice, a real estate agent who built his home in the Hamptons just four months before the flood.

"I'm not asking for the world. I just want what I had on June 19. I want it back."

Ellice said the government could have simplified things with a buyout in the Hamptons instead of insisting the homes be remediated and made safe for habitation. Most are expected to be torn down.

"We don't have a choice. We don't have a say."

Griffiths said he realizes Hampton residents aren't going to be pleased with Thursday's announcement.

"This a policy to deal with the floodway. The Hamptons are neither in the floodway or the flood fringe."

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 23, 2013 A21

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