by SUSAN MANN
The provincial government is paying up to $383,000 to help repair the Horlings Marsh dyke and remediate the most flood damaged areas of land despite a recommendation that additional assistance under AgriRecovery isn’t warranted because existing risk management programs are already helping farmers.
But vegetable grower John Marques, one of the three marsh farmers whose land was flooded twice after the Horlings Marsh dyke broke on two separate occasions within a month last spring, says the money won’t benefit him, and now he will be stuck with a dyke repair bill for thousands of dollars. In addition, the dyke still isn’t fully repaired yet and he doesn’t feel safe working in the area so it’s unlikely he will plant a crop this year on his previously flooded land.
“I don’t even feel safe driving there anymore,” he adds.
Only 200 metres of the dyke have been repaired so far but there is more than 2.5 kilometres of dyke to fix, Marques says. “The way I look at it right now, this thing is going to flood again.”
Along with a huge future dyke repair bill coming at him, Marques says he lost income because of the flood, and had more than $300,000 in costs to plant his vegetable crops that were flooded out last year along with $26,000 in land rental fees and costs for pumping out the water from his land twice. “It was muddy soils so a lot of our soils were pumped out with that water.”
For Marques the loss was huge. “I lost 70 per cent of everything we did last year.”
Marques questions why the government or the drainage committee didn’t inform the growers of the AgriRecovery decision rather than him being told about it by a Better Farming reporter. “We’re the landowners and I’m hearing it from Better Farming. Something is wrong with this picture.”
The dyke repair is estimated to cost $1 million. Under the provincial Drainage Act, the Ontario government is paying one-third, $333,000, of the dyke repair costs. The $667,000 remainder “will be covered through a levy of the property owners in the marsh,” it says in a written government summary of the AgriRecovery decision.
Marques says the repair costs to growers “gets divided based on the percentage of the land that you own.” He says he owns about 40 per cent of the land.
Ontario’s government is also giving Bradford West Gwillimbury up to $50,000 to “assist with soil screening activities to rehabilitate the most severely damaged potions of the Horlings Marsh,” the government summary says.
The federal government isn’t contributing any money to help the marsh growers whose land was flooded. The government “received an assessment from the province that did not recommend an AgriRecovery response so no further action was taken,” agriculture department spokesman Patrick Girard says by email. “We have not been approached by the Ontario government about any other potential funding.”
Marques says the province covers one-third of the costs for every drainage project in Ontario so the money it has earmarked for the Horlings Marsh dyke repair “is not any special coverage. It’s something they always do.”
As for the $50,000 for soil screening assistance, Marques says that doesn’t affect his parcel of land. “I farm probably 75 per cent of the land that was flooded but that wasn’t where the (dyke) breach happened. That happened on the neighbouring property.”
On July 2, 2013, the provincial government requested the federal government start a joint assessment with it under AgriRecovery to evaluate the impact of excess rainfall in parts of Ontario and the need for further assistance. The three areas targeted for investigation were: southwestern Ontario, including Chatham Kent, farms along the Ottawa and Rideau rivers and the Horlings Marsh, which is part of the Holland Marsh area north of Toronto.
The excess moisture in both the Ottawa/Rideau rivers and Chatham Kent areas was within the range that farmers normally encounter in a 15-year period and the “majority of damage was covered by existing programs,” primarily crop insurance, the summary says.
The government summary says the Horlings Marsh flooding was the result of “abnormally high rainfall and very strong winds that contributed to breaches to a privately-owned dyke on two separate occasions.”
The conclusion of the AgriRecovery assessment, which is now completed, is assistance under the program for flooding in Ontario last year “is not warranted” as existing business risk management programs have, and will continue providing the “financial assistance required to manage the impacts to individual producers,” the summary says.
Marques says he only had crop insurance for hail and frost but not flooding. “This flooding hasn’t happened since Hurricane Hazel in 1954” flooded more than 8,000 acres in the Holland Marsh. But even during Hurricane Hazel, the Marques farm didn’t flood.
Marques says another factor in the dyke breach that hasn’t been addressed is the continuous eight million gallons a day of water flowing out from the Bradford West Gwillimbury water treatment plant. The plant was built in the 1980s but the dyke wasn’t built to handle so much water. The water in the area never freezes because there is so much water flowing out of the plant.
“Even with this cold winter that we’ve had, not once has the water in the area frozen,” he says.
The water treatment plant contributed to the dyke break “because there has been an undermining of the dyke for the last 30 years,” he says, noting the broken dyke is located on the treatment plant’s property.
The dyke break isn’t the growers’ fault, he says, and yet they’re being stuck with the repair bill. “It’s not our dyke. This is town property and this is owned by the treatment plant.”
Ontario agriculture ministry spokesman Mark Cripps says they’re continuing to work with the growers “as they prepare for the 2014 season.” BF
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