Eleven months after hurricane Igor, infrastructure in some areas of Marystown is worse than before the treacherous storm, says the town’s mayor.
Road washouts in many areas were patched with culverts smaller than the pipes that couldn’t handle Igor’s torrential downpour, Sam Synard told The Telegram.
“So if another hurricane of that magnitude happened right now, we’d be in a worse situation, because we temporarily repaired some of the infrastructure with substandard infrastructure,” he said.
“We have smaller culverts than before. Something has to happen here. We don’t want another hurricane to prove our point. That’s not going to solve anybody’s problem.”
Synard said the town has been wrangling with federal and provincial officials over more than 25 areas flooded by Igor — projects worth $1.5 million.
“We were of the opinion we would automatically be able to improve infrastructure by at least a minimum of 15 per cent,” Synard said.
“That’s being haggled now and there seems to be a lot of backtracking on that statement. It hasn’t gone as smoothly and as timely as we thought it would.”
Even if Marystown gets the go-ahead now, the work still wouldn’t get done in advance of September — hurricane season. Igor struck Sept. 21, 2010.
The town would have to send the work to tender and it would be October or November before it could get started — that’s if the funding is approved imminently.
“The same response happens in every emergency — people come in and say, ‘We are going to take care of you,’” Synard said.
“We’re waiting a year and the longer it goes on people seem to forget about it.”
Marystown, like many other communities, declared a state of emergency during Igor. The storm washed out roads and collapsed bridges, isolating 90 towns in eastern Newfoundland.
Two severed connections cut the Burin Peninsula off from the Trans-Canada Highway — Long Pond and Rattling Brook Bridge. Long Pond has been repaired but a temporary Bailey bridge remains at Rattling Brook. Work began a few weeks ago on a new bridge.
Synard told The Telegram the province hasn’t taken the lead on emergency preparedness meetings and the peninsula is no further ahead with stockpiling — after three days, gas ran out on the peninsula as well as perishables like milk, bread and produce.
“What we needed to do is shortly after hurricane Igor, we should have had a process where we were going to meet — provincial, federal, municipal people, emergency response, RCMP, fire departments,” Synard said.
“There’s no major improvements in that area at all in the sense that we still have the stockpile of gasoline that we had prior to hurricane Igor.
“I mentioned in the media in October that we really need to get our heads around this. For some reason, it’s always perceived to be critical of government. You’re not criticizing, you’re just stating fact. And I said we need to get our heads around some of these issues. We're no better prepared and it’s proven right. We’re 11 months into this thing and we haven’t done anything to improve the infrastructure.”
Synard said in the first couple of days of hurricane Igor there was disorganization and conflicting messages from different departments and fire and emergency measures.
“One arm of government was saying the Rattling Brook Bridge was open and someone else was saying, ‘No it’s not,’” Synard recalled.
“In the third or fourth day it started to evolve better, and (Transportation and Works Minister) Tom Hedderson did a good job of grabbing onto the file.”
Synard said he can’t understand why it has taken so long to respond to some of the issues, particularly when it comes to municipalities’’ claims.
“I didn’t expect it to happen overnight — that would be unrealistic. At the same time, 11 months is too long,” he said.
Municipal Affairs Minister Kevin O’Brien, who is also responsible for Fire and Emergency Services, said Friday federal guidelines are stringent when it comes to what is eligible under disaster financial assistance — that includes proper documentation of the damage.
“If you don’t follow those guidelines and document very, very carefully under the audit system that is provided by the disaster financial assistance, it may not be covered. We cannot violate that process,” O’Brien said, noting the province was not paid fully by the feds for the Badger flood in 2003 due to inadequate documentation.
“The documentation starts afterwards when (towns and communities) start to assess the damage. ... Sometimes damage was pre-existing Igor and Igor actually contributed to its final need to have it fully repaired. If the damage started long before Igor happened, we have to be very careful with that for the simple reason that falls outside the federal guidelines.”
As for Marystown, O’Brien said an additional $190,000 is on the way for repairs, and he said the majority of the total 60-65 areas of the town hit by the hurricane have been addressed.
He said the province sometimes gets blamed unfairly for slowing down the process of compensation.
Less than a dozen household claims of damage from Igor around the eastern region of the province are yet to be processed, O’Brien said.
But he couldn’t say how many communities and towns still have claims for repair work in negotiation.
“I’d like to be able to cut a cheque for everything that comes in through my door today, but I can’t do that,” O’Brien said. “For the simple reason I am guided by those federal guidelines under the disaster financial assistance arrangement and I have to follow them. If I don’t do that, it would cost the province millions and millions of dollars.”
O’Brien said Municipal Affairs is trying to expedite the claims as quickly as possible and the potential for further destruction isn’t forgotten.
“I’m always nervous, to be honest with you,” O’Brien said, adding improving the capacity of infrastructure can’t be done overnight.
As for emergency preparedness, he said there have been meetings and workshops, and some towns on the Burin Peninsula are well along or have finished their emergency measures plans — which must be completed by May 2012.
“If we have another event like Igor — God forbid — or any event, we might learn something from it and we add to that plan,” O’Brien said.
He said between volunteers, the public and private sector, the province was restored to some type of order within 10 days of Igor striking.
“That's unprecedented, I think, in the country,” O’Brien said.
“In Fire and Emergency Services, we’re starting to track storms now. There’s been a fair amount of advisories on my BlackBerry this week. … We’ll be well ahead if anything happens in Newfoundland and Labrador of an Igor-type event.”