By Collin Gallant
Alta Newspaper Group – Medicine Hat
Newly-announced grants to build a floodway near Taber may trigger the need for regional municipalities – including Medicine Hat and Cypress County – to put millions of their own money toward the project.
The Horsefly Emergency Spillway, which would divert flood water past the town of Taber, will eventually join the St. Mary Irrigation System to the Oldman River in three phases.
Earlier this month, Ottawa announced it would match provincial funds first announced in February for the first $22.4-million phase, via the Investing in Canada infrastructure grant.
However, the program depends on a three-way funding agreement including municipalities – in this case made up of a consortium of southern Alberta’s counties and irrigators.
That share would total $5.9 million from abut 15 members of the “Regional Drainage Committee,” but based on a sliding scale of direct benefit.
Medicine Hat’s council passed a resolution last fall stating it won’t contribute to flood mitigation projects outside the city until its own flood projects are complete.
Council’s representative to the group, Coun. Kris Samraj, said more information should be provided to members about the funding plan at an upcoming meeting next week.
According to previous reports, Medicine Hat’s share for the entire $49-million project would be about $760,000.
Officials with Cypress County ($1.8 million for Horsefly in total) and County of Forty Mile ($2 million) did not respond to information requests from the Alta Newspaper Group earlier this month, though both counties are struggling with their own financial challenges. Cypress County Reeve Dan Hamilton said recently that major rebalancing of the tax base would be needed if proposed changes to assessing linear taxes are approved by the province.
Federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna’s office announced $8.9 million for the spillway among other projects on Aug. 4.
“Our investments in water infrastructure projects in Taber … will make a real difference in people’s lives for years to come,” McKenna stated in a release.
That is combined with $7.4 million in provincial money first announced in February during the final round of Alberta Community Resiliency Program grants.
“Building vital infrastructure is a key part of Alberta’s recovery plan,” said Alberta’s Infrastructure Minister Prasad Panda.
The Regional Drainage Committee was founded in 2013 to deal with overland flooding issues and water security in drought periods.
A 2019 report outlines proposals to expand reservoirs, build spillways and add other mitigation measures throughout southern Alberta at a total estimated cost of $150 million.
Those plans are prioritized with an agreement to seek out grants, and a portion of remaining costs to all municipal partners based on direct benefit.
Horsefly, though in Taber, would see funding from all committee partners, while town and MD of Taber would pay the most, a combined $3.5 million.
Partners would then be required to fund a portion of projects out of their area.
Those include proposals nearer to the Hat, such as a $25-million expansion of Murray Lake and a $13-million relief spillway from Sauter (Rattlesnake) Reservoir.