The mayors of three British Columbia communities devastated by flooding in November 2021 are calling for changes in how the federal government dispenses disaster relief after their applications were denied.

The mayors of Merritt, Princeton and Abbotsford want the rejections reconsidered and say they received no details about why their requests to the Disaster Mitigation and Adaptation Fund failed, other than being told their lengthy applications were missing information.

"To find that our application was denied, that the City of Abbotsford won't be receiving the funding support that we need to protect our community from a future flood disaster, that is brutally devastating news," Abbotsford Mayor Ross Siemens said at a joint news conference Monday.

"We feel completely abandoned by our federal government. And after hearing that Merritt and Princeton's applications were also denied, we are dumbfounded as to why the federal government has chosen to abandon our communities, our region and our province."

Siemens said it is a "disrespect for due process" that no community impacted by the 2021 flooding was successful.

He said without federal support the communities "lie in wait of the next flooding disaster."

The 2021 flooding, the most costly weather event in provincial history, was triggered by a series of atmospheric rivers that brought days of drenching rain.

Five people were killed in a landslide; thousands were forced from their homes; farmland, buildings and homes were swamped; and the floodwaters tore out roads, bridges and other structures.

Merritt Mayor Michael Goetz said his community is in desperate need of new dikes, and some areas are unprotected from future flooding.

'A slap in the face': B.C. mayors decry being rejected for federal disaster relief. #BC #BCPoli #BCFloods #DisasterMitigationAndAdaptationFund

"To be rejected like this, with very little explanation of why it happened, it's an absolute slap in the face of Western civilization. I have to wonder if this would happen if we were on the East Coast, I'm not really sure it would have."

Princeton Mayor Spencer Coyne says Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told the communities he had their backs but it no longer feels that way, with his community continuing to rely on temporary dikes.

A statement from Micaal Ahmed, communications manager for Infrastructure Minister Sean Fraser, says the fund has provided nearly $180 million for five major flood mitigation projects in B.C., including $7.3 million directed to Abbotsford.

A followup email statement from Siemens said the money Abbotsford received last year was from a completely different application made before 2021 and related to Fraser River bank erosion

Ahmed's statement says Ottawa provided the province with $1.4 billion in federal cost-sharing for recovery from the 2021 floods.

"All projects submitted for funding under the (Disaster Mitigation and Adaptation Fund) are assessed on the information provided in the application, particularly when determining hazard risk, resilience, and return on investment," the statement says.

"Infrastructure Canada communicates reasons for decisions directly to applicants, and always offers to answer any questions they might have."

Former Abbotsford mayor Henry Braun, who was in office at the time of the flooding, told the news conference that he felt confident, based on what he had heard from provincial and federal counterparts, that help would be coming.

"We were all counting on senior government to be true to its word, and come through with the funding these communities desperately need to prevent a similar disaster from happening again. I implore the prime minister and (former) minister (of emergency preparedness Bill) Blair to follow through on your personal words to me."

Sean Strang, Merritt's director of flood recovery and mitigation, said none of the projects mentioned in the federal statement, nor any of the $1.4 billion, went to Merritt.

The mayors said smaller municipalities and communities do not always have the resources to make lengthy and costly applications as they compete for federal money.

Siemens said preparation of Abbotsford's application took months and after finding out that it had been denied, he was given the "runaround" between the ministries of Infrastructure, Emergency Preparedness, and Transport, but did not get a clear answer as to why.

The federal government launched the $2-billion fund in May 2018, adding an additional $1.375 billion in 2021.

The federal government's website refers to the fund as a "merit-based contribution program intended to support public infrastructure projects designed to mitigate current and future climate-related risks and disasters triggered by climate change, such as floods, wildland fires, droughts and seismic events."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 3, 2024.

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