14 year saga of Britannia floodproofing comes to conclusion
At the April 24, 2018 (Tuesday) City of Ottawa Planning Committee meeting, under the innocuous guise of an omnibus report covering a series of zoning amendments, a 14-year saga of floodproofing efforts for Britannia Village on the Ottawa River comes to a satisfactory conclusion. The City staff-proposed zoning amendment would remove from floodplain designation some 90 homes in Britannia Village as a result of a long-fought-for berm that was constructed (and tested) last year.
Britannia was founded in 1872 as a village at the foot of Lac Deschenes on the Ottawa River, and ever since has been vulnerable to flooding. In 1979 high water levels led to canoes cruising on some of Britannia's streets instead of cars. As a result the Rideau Valley Conservation Authority (which has authority to designate floodplains) identified some 90 homes in Britannia Village as on the 1-in100 year Ottawa River flood plain, limiting home expansions and development opportunities there due to the risk of significant flooding.
In 2004 a dedicated group of Britannia residents began to lobby City Hall for assistance in building a berm to protect the community from flooding, enough to defend from the 1-in-100 year flood. For the residents this was a safety issue. The route to this assistance lay in a measure called a Local Improvement Levy, where a public work could be constructed funded half from the benefitting properties and half by the City. This assumed that a majority of benefitting properties voted for such a measure, and that City Council in turn agreed. Then Bay Ward Councillor Alex Cullen agreed to spearhead the campaign at City Council, while the Britannia Village Community Association (led by then-president Wendy Hough) organized the necessary referendum among the 90 property owners.
The initial cost of the proposed berm was estimated to be $390,000; $185,00 to be funded by the City, and $185,000 by the 90 property owners on the 1-in-100 year floodplain (to be recovered through property taxes on these 90 properties, spread over 10 years). It took 2 tries to finally win the necessary majority from the affected Britannia homeowners, and narrowly passed Ottawa City Council by one vote in 2006 (then-Mayor Bob Chiarelli casting the deciding vote). It looked as if the days of flooding in Britannia Village were numbered.
However, the project encountered delays through issues over property access (among others) and the costs began to creep. The original agreement by the City to fund the berm lay the responsibility for covering project cost creep with the City, so in 2010 Bay Ward Councillor Cullen went back to City Council to seek an additional $670,000 to cover the additional costs, which he was successful in getting.
However, more delays were encountered and costs rose again, reaching now $1 million for the project. The Britannia residents asked City Council to cover these additional costs for the berm but there was no appetite there to do this. However, there was a new Ontario Minister of Infrastructure who could be approached for these additional funds, by the name of Bob Chiarelli, the former Mayor but now M.P.P. for Ottawa West-Nepean. The Britannia residents appealed to him for help and he was able to find funds from his ministry sufficient to meet the project's requirements. In 2014 he announced a provincial contribution of $300,000 to complete the Britannia floodproof berm project.
The berm was finally constructed over the winter of 2016-17. As luck would have it, in May 2017 the berm was tested by flood waters that inundated properties bordering the Ottawa River in Constance Bay, Gatineau and in Cumberland, but not in Britannia. This was later determined to be a 1-in-50 year flood (just a foot short of the 1-in-100 year flood level) but without the berm in place many properties in Britannia would have been flooded - a bullet was dodged.
At this Tuesday's Planning Committee the Britannia flood proofing saga comes to a close, with a routine report regularizing those Britannia homes that had faced floods in the past but now can be treated as other homes in the City due to the protection of this berm. Kudos go to the perseverance of the residents in Britannia Village who, over these 14 years, did not give up.