A sea of troubles in Rigaud
PHOTO BY NICK ZACHARIAS
Though resident William Bradley has been given $22,000 from the provincial government to conduct repairs on his home, the Town of Rigaud has erected signs near Pointe-Séguin indicating it’s forbidden to carry out construction or repairs in the flood zone area.
Following the second major flood event in as many years that devastated his small community at the tip of Chemin de la Pointe Séguin, long-time Rigaud resident William Bradley and many of his neighbours are feeling trapped. The province has a program in place to provide up to $200,000 in financial assistance to those living in flood zones who choose to relocate, but in many cases that may not be enough to cover an existing mortgage, let alone a comparable property on higher ground.
The area in question is a narrow point of land extending into the Ottawa River, serviced by a single road that curls northeast off Route 342. The point features a treed landscape with a public boat launch and roughly 30 houses. Surrounded on three sides by water, it is especially at risk for flooding and has been hit hard by recent events – water levels this spring left visible white marks on trees eight feet above ground level, poured into basements, and left the access road completely submerged.
“I’ve lived here for 30 years,” said Bradley, who is 72 years old, “and now they’re telling me I don’t have a right to be here.” The community began as little more than a series of fishing shacks but over time, under previous administrations, more and more substantial development was allowed to take place. About 15 years ago, Bradley says the city of Rigaud co-financed the raising of the road, splitting the $34,000 cost 50/50 with local residents to try to assure the continuation of the community following a flood in 1998. The road was still not high enough to stay above water in the last flood.
“Some of us nicknamed it ‘Île Séguin’ in those days” says Bradley, with the dark humour that often comes in the face of disaster. Bradley reports that, “At one point they had plans to put 30 new houses on the 2.5 acre-lot behind me, so I bought the land myself. Now when the mayor comes to visit me he asks, ‘Why haven’t you just moved?’”
PHOTO BY NICK ZACHARIAS
The yard surrounding William Bradley’s Rigaud home still bears signs of the recovery and clean-up efforts following the 2017 and 2019 floods and he and his neighbours are feeling stuck in government red tape at the municipal and provincial levels.
Not allowed to conduct repairs
“I understand that moving might be for the best, but I can’t find anywhere with a similar house and a barn to house our artisan pottery workshop for anything close to the money they are offering,” said Bradley, “and now, on top of that, they are telling me that I can’t do any repairs to protect my foundations if we flood again.”
Signs have appeared at the entrance to the community and on surrounding roads prohibiting construction, renovation, or repairs to buildings without the authorization of the municipal Service de l’urbanisme.
“My foundation is built with blocks, and I’m not allowed to do any work to rebuild my French drain system and direct water away from the house and protect it in case of power outage – at one time we had to have nine pumps running to stay on top of the three feet of water in our basement. It’s terrible, we lost all our speed limit signs and children playing signs in the last flood, and the city hasn’t replaced them, but they were able to put up that sign to tell me I can’t do any work to protect my own house.”
Aid from the province
Some houses have already been abandoned in the area, while other homeowners are hoping their efforts at raising foundations after the 2017 flood will be enough to hold them. Bradley has received $22,000 to conduct repairs from the province of Quebec (an amount arrived at after multiple assessor visits) but is now sitting on it in the bank for fear that any work he attempts to do with it will land him in trouble with the city and possibly see him going to court. “It just feels like they’re trying to pressure me out,” he said.
The mayor’s position
Rigaud mayor Hans Gruenwald does not deny that he feels it would be better for people to leave the flood zone rather than wait for the next inevitable deluge.
“Listen, I’m sympathetic, I really am,” he said. “I can understand his point of view sometimes. But my main preoccupation for everyone is safety. Other places in the world where there are natural disasters, you always hear about a number of casualties. So far in Rigaud we haven’t had that and we want to keep it that way; the mission has to be to help these people to move to a place where they are out of harm’s way.”
For those who would stay in the area and roll the dice, Gruenwald was fairly to the point.
“The city is responsible for 25 per cent of the money the province offers, and between 2017-2019 the city has spent $1 million to help that area. The reserves are dry. We’re doing our tax calculations now and already the people are going to be upset to see how much their taxes go up because of this; we can’t just keep spending. For anyone who chooses to stay after this and to jump back into the water, they are going to be on their own.”
PHOTO BY NICK ZACHARIAS
“I’ve lived here for 30 years,” said Bradley, who is 72 years old, “and now they’re telling me I don’t have a right to be here.”
Pressure from the city
To add to his troubles, Bradley has of late been receiving registered letters from the city of Rigaud directing him to clean up his lot. He has a large number of sandbags stacked outside that he cannot readily move due to cracked vertebrae he suffered earlier this year, as well as various pumps and other equipment, and a large industrial container that he brought in to store clay molds and tools that had to be removed to safety from his flooded workshop.
Bradley admits the aesthetic isn’t great, but is suffering under the added pressure. “I had higher shelves built in the workshop, so the molds can be moved and the container can go by their deadline, but how am I supposed to get rid of all this stuff?”
Future for the area
Bradley has said that if he could afford it he would move but that is no small order for him. He fears he and his neighbours are being pressured to leave because the town would like to develop the land into a park, possibly even getting subsidies for the lost municipal tax revenue.
Asked for confirmation on that, Gruenwald laughed and said, “I’m all ears for that. So far we’ve lost $200,000 in annual tax revenue from people that left, and the city isn’t getting a single dollar of that back from anywhere. Really, and it’s as simple as this, the flood zone is not a place for people to live and they need to realize that and take the offers they have to move somewhere safe.”