Downstream dilemma: Couple ordered to remove berm protecting acreage along Highwood River
The Municipal District of Foothills has ordered a family to remove the dike they constructed on their property near Aldersyde but the couple says they’ll be defenseless against future flooding exacerbated by flood mitigation upstream.
Brian and Sharon McCaughan live along the Highwood River, downstream from High River, and their property suffered extensive damage during two major floods.
“We built the house in ’98 and then, boom, in 2005, we’re seven-and-a-half feet deep under water,” said Sharon. “We were told when we bought in ’97, from the realtor and the previous owner who I had contacted and is willing to sign a stat deck, it’s never flooded before.”
The estimated damage to the McCaughan’s home and the offices and equipment of their construction business from the flood exceeded $500,000 and the couple began constructing a berm to prevent further damage.
“The dike saved us numerous times. I’d take pictures every year showing the water level coming up on our dike,” explained Sharon. “In 2013, it just wasn’t high enough. Our dike was five or six feet and we were hit with 13 foot levels.”
The McCaughan’s homemade flood mitigation effort was increased in size but record levels of snowfall in the mountains earlier this year gave them cause for alarm. The couple began hauling in clay to fortify the dike but, only five hours after they started, they received word from the MD of Foothills that they did not have the required road access permit for having five or more trucks on the property in a day.
“Then they said you also need a development permit for the dike,” said Sharon. “We applied for the dike in April and then there wasn’t enough time to go through the whole process so we just prayed it wouldn’t flood.”
According to Sharon, the MD served the couple with a notice to remove the berm on August 13 as it encroaches on public land. “The county, in the stop order, said if you don’t remove the dike by the specific date of September 4, then they will come and remove it and charge us.”
The McCaughans have launched an appeal of the stop order and are awaiting a hearing.
“They’re stating that we have encroached on their property without authorization. They could come and tear down the section of their road allowance too, that’s another thing that could happen, and then our dike is useless too again.”
McCaughan says studies conducted by the MD predict future flooding on their property could exceed five metres (16 feet) as a result of flood mitigation measures constructed to protect the town of High River and they would be defenseless without a berm. The family’s frustrations continue to mount as they consider their property to be nearly worthless after being designated as a floodway.
“The last five years have been such a blur. You’re just working all the time to stay ahead and pay the bills. We’ve lost over a million dollars in the last two floods.”
CTV Calgary contacted the MD of Foothills regarding the McCaughan’s berm but municipality officials refused to comment on the situation as the evaluation of the property owners’ appeal is ongoing.
With files from CTV’s Chris Epp