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No relief yet for flood victims
Article mis en ligne le jeudi 16 novembre 2011

A heavy downpour on August 1 has caused major damage to numerous homes in NDG, in an area that includes the Mount Royal Tennis Club. But, it will take several years to replace Montreal’s aging sewage system. The problem is that the sewers were just never built to handle the lashing storms brought on by changing weather conditions.

The weather is worse. The houses are old and the leaves get stuck in the drainage from the roof. Most of all, the city’s infrastructure is old and needs to be updated. So says Elizabeth Shapiro, a Grey St. homeowner whose basement was flooded. But, she was philosophically upbeat about the prospects for local residents. “The drain pipes are no good anymore. But at least work is happening because of the super-hospital,” she said.

Well that’s a switch. Talk about the proverbial silver lining in every gray cloud. The Glen site construction project has generated nothing but complaints from the get-go.

It is mostly basements that have been affected. Some of the homeowners had already renovated their basements before the last big storm hit, and they had to make a decision about whether to redo them.

David Ownby, a Chinese History professor at Université de Montréal, opted to leave his basement as is. “The city isn’t to blame,” he said. However, Peter McQueen, city councillor for the district that includes Marlowe, Vendome, and Gray – the three streets affected by the flooding – disagrees. “The city isn’t taking any responsibility,” he said.

The city’s position is that improper drainage of leaves from the houses’ flat roofs caused the flooding. McQueen said that this is nonsense. “All of the houses in NDG have flat roofs. Why weren’t all of the houses in NDG flooded?”

It will be a long process of redoing the sewers and revamping the network to the hospital. The massive conduit to service the hospital will eventually increase the capacity to get the water out. In the meantime, the basements will keep flooding because right now the sewer system functions at under-capacity. There is just too much water going down the hill.

It isn’t only homeowners whose basements were flooded. There are a number of basement apartments in the neighbourhood and it appears that some of the tenants may have been forced to leave.

Ownby said that some of those affected by the flooding had lost everything including their furniture. In some cases, it was necessary to do extensive renovation and the houses were gutted right down to concrete and studs.

It hasn’t been any picnic for the neighbours either. Not everyone’s house was initially damaged by the flooding. He said that the mesh of removal contractors and demolition crews ended up undoing some previously habitable homes.

He’s worried that insurance companies will raise their rates or, worse, stop insuring for flooding if this keeps up. And the strain of compounding problems caused by the flooding is getting to residents. “Globally, it depresses the values of our houses. This makes people angry and tense,” he said.

An ad-hoc residents’ committee that met with city officials would like to see an updated schedule for replacing outdated infrastructure, and a completion date for the work. In the interim, while the Decarie collector is under construction, the group would like to see regular cleaning of the street drains to maximize functionality.

Back in 2002 the city acknowledged that the drains needed to be replaced, but improvements have been slow in coming. It’s not at all clear if the city even has a short-term action-plan to address this particular set of concerns. Ownby is more worried about a larger issue: the city’s ability to meet the growing challenges posed by climate change in the near future.

[ Deborah Rankin ]

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