«Solidarity is the word of the day,» Mayor Valérie Plante said. «We know how stressful it is for the population, the fear of losing one’s home and belongings.»
At a meeting of Montreal’s city council on Sunday held extraordinarily in the borough of Pierrefonds-Roxboro, council voted unanimously to extend by five days the state of emergency declared April 26 by Mayor Valérie Plante in the wake of flooding and the risk of more.
It was the first time since the reconstruction of the City Hall building in Old Montreal in 1926 that council met outside the building. They gathered in the auditorium of Pierrefonds Comprehensive High School, with council members up on the stage.
The idea was to hold the meeting closer to the boroughs most affected by flooding and the risk of flooding — Pierrefonds-Roxboro, where the high school is located, Ahuntsic-Cartierville and L’Île-Bizard—Ste-Geneviève — to acknowledge those working on the ground, shoring up dikes and putting in sandbags. The agglomeration council, which met after city council, also voted unanimously to extend the state of emergency.
“Solidarity is the word of the day,” Plante said. “We know how stressful it is for the population, the fear of losing one’s home and belongings.”
Bruno Lachance, director of the Montreal Fire Department and Montreal Civil Security coordinator, told council that, using a map that showed every area affected by the flooding of 2017, a detailed plan had been prepared of where dikes — walls of sandbags — could be set up for maximal effect.
Ahuntsic-Cartierville Mayor Émilie Thuillier told council that her borough’s level of preparedness is better than it was during the spring flooding of 2017. Sandbags were distributed so that residents “could prepare themselves earlier and better,” she said. “And people are doing better. We feel the cooperation, the solidarity. … “Water does not know borders,” she said, but meanwhile, “the dikes are holding.”
Pierrefonds-Roxboro Mayor Dimitrios “Jim” Beis told council that “proactivity and efficiency” have helped so far to limit flooding in his borough. “Every time we have floods, we find ways to innovate,” he said. “My team is working hard to protect your homes and your families.”
After the meeting, he told reporters that a rise in water levels of up to 15 centimetres is predicted. “The challenge is the pressure of the water, to see if the dikes will hold. We have been lucky until now,” he said.
Lachance told council that the erection of the dikes in the three Montreal-area boroughs at greatest risk of flooding began on April 15 and by April 18 everything was in place. On April 22, he asked that the walls be raised 18 inches as the Ottawa River rose, “to avoid the worst.” On April 25, he asked that they be raised a further 12 inches.
“When the water arrived, the dikes did their work,” he said. Several streets that flooded in 2017 have been spared so far, he said, and about 100 structures on Montreal’s North Shore have been affected so far by flooding, compared with 450 in 2017. There were about 300 evacuations in 2017 and so far this year there have been 100, including 50 from a mobile-home community in Île-Bizard on Saturday.
Water levels are much higher than they were in 2017, currents are strong and water pressure is greater, he said. But “the preparation, quick reaction and dedication has made a difference,” he said, and water for the most part, has been kept from major thoroughfares. “We are vigilant 24 hours a day.”
So far, teams have been able to respond if they see weaknesses in the dikes, he said. Levels of the Ottawa River basin could rise in the next 48 hours. “If no dikes fail, we should be able to maintain the situation,” he said.
He requested that citizens stay out of affected neighbourhoods unless they are volunteering there. “Whether floods, or extreme heat, we need the full cooperation and complete involvement of citizens.”
Mayor Plante said that citizens who want to help are asked to call 311 before setting out to find out where they are needed. “We will need people also for cleanup and removing sandbags,” she said.
Questions from the public during question period reflected a concern about development projects on West Island wetlands; more than one person asked for a moratorium on these projects.
“It is hard to erase what happened in the past,” Plante responded to one, but she was clear that her administration wants to protect undeveloped land. “This administration will never change the zoning on areas not now zoned for residential construction,” she said.
Sylvain Ouellet, vice-president of Projet Montréal’s executive committee, said that the Communauté metropolitane de Montreal (CMM) is currently redoing floodplain maps for Montreal’s shoreline: Existing maps are old and inadequate, he said.
Floodplain maps are important tools for urban planners, civil security agencies and residents — and up-to-date maps take into account factors including historical floods, climate patterns, changing river levels and flow rates. “We know climate change will worsen the floods,” Ouellet said.
He said the CMM, of which Plante is president, used aerial reconnaissance last weekend and this past weekend to determine where the floodwaters have reached so far.
“As president of the CMM, it is important to make sure that the mapping come with a strong political message,” Plante said. “Together, civic society and political will can change things.”