Bartley Kives' stories City riverbanks stable despite 2011 flooding (March 27) and Residents watch as properties disappear into the Red (April 5) fail to address most of the critical facts.
While riverbank erosion within the city has generally been tolerable until the late 1990s, it since has accelerated dramatically, particularly on the Red River, leading to massive bank failure in many places. The reasons for this jump in the frequency and severity of shoreline erosion are likely connected to the increased frequency of major spring floods but also to an unprecedented number of summer floods that all have left riverbank soils water-saturated for extended periods of time and thus, vulnerable to slumping and collapse.
The city has responded by implementing several riverbank-restoration projects that have armoured the banks of the most affected properties. This measure will stop further erosion at the immediate site for some time.
However, it also changes the cross-section profile of the river channel and effectively moves energy from river currents no longer dissipated by the work of erosion downstream onto the next section of shoreline, usually on the opposite side of the river.
In St. Vital, at least half the total riverbank collapse in the most affected areas of Riviera Crescent and all of the losses on Crescent Drive properties have occurred since the spring of 2008, immediately after the completion of the bank stabilization at St. Vital Park.
Private owners of riverfront properties should not bear the entire cost of bank-stabilization projects on their land, but some form of public assistance is justified and also in the interest of all city taxpayers. Engineering studies commissioned and personally financed by Riviera Crescent homeowners have indicated that the erosion and slumping will continue not only until all the homes are lost, but also the street and city infrastructure such as sewer and hydro lines.
Once houses are gone, the city and province not only lose parts of their most valuable tax base to help fund this cost but will be forced to commit to very costly restoration measures to at minimum shore up and protect infrastructure. Private homeowners want to maintain their riverbank properties and are more than willing to pay a fair share of the costs.
However, the funding the city offered with a yearly payback on homeowners' taxes would increase most homeowners' property-tax bills. This, unfortunately, would force most owners on fixed incomes to sell, a difficult proposition when their property taxes exceed $8,000 annually. The public falsely assumes that all riverbank property owners are wealthy and can afford this, but at least half of city riverbank properties are owned by middle-income or fixed-income families.