Waltham Sept. 6, 2019
On Friday, THE EQUITY toured the municipality of Waltham, which was hit hard by the flooding this spring, to put a human face on the tragedy that struck the region and see how residents are coping with the circumstances.
Suzanne Lauzon Marchand sat in what remained of the living room in her bungalow on chemin du Traversier, where she’s lived for the past 30 years, surrounded by boxes of her belongings. She dabbed at her eyes with a ball of Kleenex as she detailed the miserable experience she’s had over the past few years.
“It’s been brutal,” she said, adding that she can’t seem to get a hold of anyone at the provincial ministry of Public Security (MSP) for details on her file. “I call every day … They’re not answering the phone.”
Back in 2017, the Ottawa River swelled and flooded the crawlspace of Lauzon Marchand’s home for two weeks, which shifted the support pillars underneath her home. She was still in the process of seeking compensation for the damage when the 2019 floods struck, leaving her first floor covered in water for three weeks.
Lauzon Marchand has been living in a trailer that she has borrowed from a friend since June, having stayed in motels and with relatives during the flooding. A widow living on a pension, she had some volunteers help her rip up what they could of her flooring while awaiting an assessment from the MSP, which will allow the municipality to grant her permits to either demolish or renovate her home. Her inspection was completed in June.
The only funds that she and her neighbours have received, was a small relocation fund from the Red Cross, totalling about $600 each, as well as food donations from community members.
“As soon as I got my paperwork, I filled it out and sent it in,” she said. “I don’t understand why it’s been so long … I can’t live in my house, all I’m doing is sorting through stuff.”
She said that she would be temporarily moving in with her daughter in Fredricton, NB, later this month, as she won’t be able to stay in the un-insulated trailer for much longer. She said she was fed up with living in limbo.
“Right now I just want my options,” she said. “They’ve given me a little bit of money, for 2017, for the flooding … They’re not in a hurry to send us our assessment papers to give us our options.”
Her neighbor, Craig Caughey, is in a similar predicament, as he is also currently living in a trailer while awaiting word from the province. The 2017 floods only destroyed the floor of his small home, but in 2019, the water was up to the handle of his front door.
“It ruined people’s lives, nothing we can do about it,” he said dejectedly. “[I’ve] been in the trailer since the end of May, first of June.”
He gestured to the electrical panel on the wall of his home, which still bore the stains from where the river water peaked. He only got his property inspected earlier that week, due to difficulties he had with the MSP.
“Winter’s around the corner, I don’t know why it took so long,” he said. “Every time they phone me it’s somebody in French, and you request English and they still phone you in French. I had to get another lady down the road that’s bilingual and she’s the one that’s doing all the work for me. If it wasn’t for them, I still wouldn’t have answers.”
Despite the setbacks, Caughey remained committed to staying on his property.
“It’s a tough way to live, but you’ve got to keep going,” he said. “You just don’t give up because of a bad flood.”
Further down the street, Rhonda Perry and her husband Mark Gale, admitted that they were some of the fortunate ones on the street, in that their two-story home could be renovated and raised above the flood line. They finally received their approval to move forward on Sept. 5.
“We did all the recommendations in 2017, we had to move the hot water tank, pumps,” Perry said in a phone interview, noting that the main damage was in their crawl space. “We re-routed that and made a service room … we brought all that up [to the main floor]. Then in 2019, it flooded that area.”
They were forced to rip out flooring, insulation and again replace many of the fixtures they replaced following 2017. The lower parts of the walls and floors were bare of insulation and drywall and small space heaters sit in the corners. Their compensation from 2017 had to be rolled in with 2019.
“[Ours] was really delayed because … they changed my agents three times,” Perry said. “I knew that everything was going to be approved and we were going to get a payment. But then the flood of 2019 happened.”
Gale had spent Friday morning perusing the local building supply store, getting estimates for materials and said he was relieved to be making some progress with winter fast approaching.
“I’m happy now that we at least have a path forward,” he said. “Everyone on the street is the same. We’re one of the lucky ones, our floor was at the 100 year level. Now they want us to go two feet above that, but I’m going to go four … just to be safe.”
However, with the region’s contractors in high demand and multiple estimates needed for the province, Gale said they were a long way out from the finish line.
“Problem is now, the price is inflated because of supply and demand, so a price we had when we first started, well now everyone’s busy, so the price has doubled,” he said. “We’ll probably have to move back [with relatives] for a couple of months while they do the lifting and that. Everything has to be disconnected. It’s an ordeal.”
Over on chemin Dempsey, Michelle Gagnon related her horror story. She and her husband, Lee Frost, were first-time home buyers looking for a place with space to raise their six children, aged 8-16. They purchased their split-level, set back from the shores of the Black River, in February and moved in the first of March.
They had to be evacuated on April 28.
“It’s not the ideal situation to be in,” she said dryly, surveying the wreckage from her back porch.
River water, along with a torrent of mud, filled their basement, which had three bedrooms, a bathroom and their utility rooms. The walls are currently stripped back to the two by fours and the floor is bare concrete, but the musty odour of filthy water and flotsam remains many months later. She said she was only able to save a dresser she inherited from her grandmother, as the Black River swelled so quickly.
“I lost everything,” she said. “Everything was down there.”
Gagnon estimated that they’ve spent more than $10,000 out of their own pockets just to eject the mud from her home. Her children are currently staying with relatives, and recently started the school year away from home.
Gagnon and her husband received their approval to lift the house, but immediately ran into difficulties.
“All habitable floors have to be above the 100 year [flood] mark, in our basement we had three bedrooms, a bathroom, a laundry room and a furnace room,” she said. “Because it’s a split level home, that would make it our main floor our basement because it’s one of the main living quarters, so we have to move our basement over the 100 year mark.”
She said they’d had difficulties getting a hold of contractors so late in the construction season.
“Contractors are hard to get a hold of,” she said. “My husband stopped one on the side of the road, working on [chemin du] Traversier. ‘Even if I were able to do it,’ he says, ‘I wouldn’t be able to start until next year.’ It’s like. Are we going to be out of our house for a year?”
Most of the residents interviewed were adamant that they would stay in their communities if they could.
“I don’t want to move now,” Lauzon Marchand concluded emphatically. “Where am I going to go and start over at this point in my life? I’m too old of a dog for this crap. I just want to get on with my life.”
THE EQUITY reached out to several municipalities, and the responses from officials were that the MSP has been slow in returning approvals for permits.
“Out of the 100 or so households affected by this year’s floods, four, maybe five permits were given out to people that are now repairing their homes,” said Fort Coulonge Director General Ellen Boucher, in a message left on Sept. 4.
Waltham Mayor David Rochon, also speaking on Sept. 4, said that only four of their 40 permit applications had been returned to the municipality. He added that the municipality is out hundreds of thousands for damaged roads and infrastructure.
“We’re still down $180,000 from 2017,” he said, adding that many of the same roads were nailed again in 2019.
Mansfield Mayor Gilles Dionne echoed the sentiment, adding that public works employees have been stretched to the limit fixing damage.
“They worked all summer at it, so they didn’t even have time to sweep the roads,” he said. “It backlogs everything, it’s unreal.”
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