Residents’ frustration overflows

Questions raised on what Town didn’t do in the past…what it will do in the future

Kevin Higgins
Published on September 12, 2013

When are you going to fix Peterson and Blackwood (Drives) … and Edinburgh?”

It was Claude House’s first question when he was given an opportunity to ask Town of Gander officials about damage caused by flooding after more than 125 millimetres of rain soaked the town Aug. 30-31.

Mr. House was among more than 20 residents who joined the media at a question-and-answer session Wednesday afternoon in council chambers. Gander Mayor Claude Elliott and municipal works and services director James Blackwood tried to detail such aspects of how much rain fell, what the Town did to prepare, how its sewer system handled the amount of rainfall, and what residents should do if their home was flooded.

However, residents attending weren’t as interested in these details as they were in finding out why certain areas of the town have experienced similar problems numerous times during the past four years. They asked why infrastructure wasn’t improved during this time, if commercial development in certain areas overloaded the sewer system, and how the Town plans to correct the problems, especially in the areas that have experienced past flooding.

“You can’t let it happen anymore. There’s people up there now who can not afford the insurance premiums, so they’re up there now dealing with a situation. They have to fix it, but they don’t have any insurance at all,” said Mr. House, whose brother-in-law and daughter both were affected by flooding in the Peterson and Blackwood drives area. “As far as I’m concerned, it’s the town’s responsibility.

“So when are you going to fix Peterson and Blackwood?”

Mr. Blackwood said he didn’t know, explaining on how money is spent in the town is determined by its council. However, he did say sewer work in the area of Blackwood and Peterson Drives was part of a consultant’s report to separate the storm and sewer systems.

He said even if the recommended system had been in place it might not have handled the flow of water that hit Gander last Friday and early Saturday morning.

Mr. Blackwood, using a chart, pointed out more than 50 mm of rain fell between 11:30 p.m. and 2:30 a.m., with close to 40 mm falling between 12:30-1:30 a.m.

He said Gander’s sewer system meets all provincial government specifications, and is more than adequate to handle higher-than-average rainfall.

“But this wasn’t just more than average. It was an amount that statistics show should only occur every 100 years,” he said, noting the system-wide backup, which affected households spread throughout the town, was not associated with any specific part of the Town’s infrastructure or any structural blockage or equipment failure.

Residents in attendance were not appeased. Their frustration continued and they demanded to know what would be done to prevent such flooding from occurring again.

“Our homes aren’t worth a plug nickel...not worth anything,” said Lynn Hammond, who lives on Edinburgh Avenue. “We go and pay $40, $50 or $60,000 to fix up our basements to have the same thing to happen in a year or two or a month…every time the rain falls now you have to go downstairs and rush to the storm drain.”

 “You’re afraid in your own home…you have no comfort in your own home…you can’t have people live like this…it’s not fair,” said Christine Jenkins.

The Town reported it had received 106 reports of household flooding so far, and officials are encouraging anyone who has experienced damage by last weekend’s storm to contact the Town Hall. It is also recommends residents contact their insurance companies.

To assist affected homeowners, the Town has changed the dates of its cleanup period. It will now take place Sept. 9-20, and will occur on the regular waste collection day for residents within this time period.

Gander MHA and Minister of Municipal Affairs, Kevin O’Brien, said he completely understands the concerns and frustration of the residents, however, at this point, it’s too early for the provincial government to become involved.

He said the Town would need to get a study done on what issues it has with its sewer system, and then it can bring it forth to the provincial and federal governments to see what direction could be taken to upgrade its infrastructure.