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As the Northwest drowns, where is the province with help?

The flooding in the northwest region is hitting new highs as MP Marcus Powlowski calls on the province to request federal assistance.

FORT FRANCES – Concerned by the state of flooding in Fort Frances, Thunder Bay- Rainy River MP Powlowski offered his support this past weekend by putting his boot to the ground and picking up a shovel to fill sandbags before touring the most affected areas of Fort Frances, Watten Township, Halkirk Township, Couchiching First Nation, and Seine River First Nation.

“I was told about a thousand houses somewhere along the shore. Many of them are permanent residences, but some of them are cottages,” Powlowski explained. “In my estimation, perhaps, 50 per cent of the house are threatened with flooding. Some have certainly been flooded. Other have not been flooded solely because of the hard work of many people, particularly the owners sandbagging and pumping the water out.”

Powlowski also mentioned that he saw some houses with two feet of water reaching the top of the sandbags and if one of the top layers were removed, the water would pour in.

“I did see some places where living rooms were full of water a couple of feet deep,” said Powlowski.  

After witnessing the devastation firsthand, Powlowski issued a statement encouraging the province to “put the wheels in motion and submit a Request for Federal Assistance to the Federal Government can lend assistance to the people of the region.”

“The places where there is bigger problems are, in my opinion, the unincorporated townships, so around Rainy Lake and some of those First Nation communities Couchiching and Seine River,” remarked Powlowski, “but I think the fact is that people are getting pretty exhausted.

If the province listens to Powlowski’s word of encouragement, a Request for Federal Assistance would allow the Federal Government to lend additional support in facing flooding emergencies beyond.

“I don’t see much of a downside in putting in that request,” Powlowski said.

However, without a formal request, the Federal Government doesn’t have the legal jurisdictional power to aid the province because the emergency response is governed under a provincial mandate.  

Therefore, the Federal government cannot send in additional support, including the military.

Powlowski also remarked in his statement that he has spoken with the Federal Government’s Minister of Emergency Preparedness, Bill Blair, who reassured Powlowski that the Federal Government is willing to help if needed.

Although, First Nation communities are already receiving support from Indigenous Services, which is funded at the federal level.  However, the battle to save homes along the lakeshore is beginning to take a harrowing toll on the residents.

“I know people in my office have tried to contact Greg Rickford’s office a number of times on this issue,” Powlowski acknowledged; however, Rickford’s office has yet to reply.

Some residents are also wondering what Rickford has to say about the flooding situation.

Fort Frances resident Jordan Allan also took to Facebook to express his concerns over the lack of response from Kenora-Rainy River MPP Greg Rickford by directly tagging him in a post stating, stating “Fort Frances and area is in need of support for the current Rainy Lake basin flooding situation. The water levels are not expected to crest until the end of June and are already past historical record highs. Across the lake, the United States national guard is helping with sandbagging. Similar support would be greatly appreciated by everyone in the community affected by the flooding. If you take time to read this thank you very much.”

Across the Rainy Lake in Koochiching County, Minnesota the National Guard has taken control of sandbagging operation and emergency grade raising of Highway 11.

Former Kenora-Rainy River candidate also posted on her Facebook some startling photos of the flooding in Fort Frances, Dryden, and Sioux Lookout with a caption that reads, “Where's Greg Rickford? Is there a plan to help people with flooding, and afterward?”

On April 23rd, Fort France declared a state of emergency, as well as several First Nation communities. Well over a month later, residents are still battling back the rising water every day as waterfront properties are being overtaken by water.

Although sandbagging operations have been suspended, in Fort Frances, due to an overwhelming surplus of stock of filled sandbags, the most concerning areas are the surrounding unincorporated townships and First Nations communities.

Some Homes in Couchiching First Nation are now islands as the water is kept at bay from two-foot-high walls of sandbags forcing many residents to boat to and from the homes.  

After a long election campaign taking precedence over several states of emergencies around the Kenora-Rainy River riding, it wasn’t until June 4th that Rickford stated the flooding on his Facebook page.

“I have been travelling across the Rainy River and Kenora Districts to see first-hand the tremendous damage from the flooding and remain in close contact with senior officials, community leaders and stakeholders to coordinate our response,” Rickford writes. “We mobilized ministry resources immediately to monitor and manage water levels, sandbag critical infrastructure, and distribute sandbags in northwestern communities. We are also working with agencies like the Lake of the Woods Control Board to prepare and respond to the downstream consequences of water levels in the Kenora region and beyond. The resolve and strength of Northwesterners is on full display as we work together to get through this difficult time. If you need more information on Disaster Recovery Assistance for Ontarians, including current activation areas.”

Although Disaster Recovery Assistance will relieve some of the cost of damages burdening homeowners, begging the question, is Ontario’s Disaster Recovery Assistance going to be enough.

After reaching out to Rickford, he has yet to provide a comment on the flooding situation or if a formal request for assistance has been filed with the province.

Clint Fleury

About the Author: Clint Fleury

Clint Fleury is a web reporter covering Northwestern Ontario and the Superior North regions.
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