Dikes protecting Abbotsford along the Vedder Canal and Fraser River need to be raised and stabilized, but doing so is expected to cost hundreds of millions of dollars. (Tyler Olsen/Abbotsford News)

Dike bill rises by $30 million, but city says feds and province need to pay

Engineers say upgrading Abbotsford's dikes to meet provincial standards will cost nearly $450 million

The cost to rebuild Abbotsford’s dikes so that they meet provincial seismic standards will be even steeper than previously thought.

It had already been known that it would cost hundreds of millions of dollars to fully upgrade the city’s dikes to be sturdy enough and high enough to protect against a record flood. A previous city plan had roughly pegged the cost at $415 million.

Although that sum would be more than double the city’s entire annual budget, a deeper look at the problem has revealed the cost of protecting Abbotsford’s low-lying areas is likely to be even higher.

Engineers contracted by the city have now found that dike reconstruction would be required, pushing the estimated cost to $446 million. That work would see the dikes removed, the ground beneath them improved, and then the dikes rebuilt.

It would be cheaper, the engineers found, to build a new Matsqui dike 250 metres away from the Fraser River. But while that could save an estimated $60 million, some of that money would have to go to buying new land.

A relocated Matsqui dike would also fail to protect the city’s JAMES wastewater treatment plant. Staff, thus, recommended using the larger sum as they make long-term plans.

Previous studies have found that a major flood similar to, or bigger than, that which occurred in 1894 could do billions of dollars worth of damage to the Fraser Valley’s economy.

But Abbotsford can’t, and shouldn’t, pay the cost to fix and raise the dikes, the city’s politicians declared at Monday’s council meeting, which also saw council approve its contributions towards the Fraser Basin Council’s latest work on a regional flood management strategy.

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Coun. Dave Loewen said the city has been paying “more than our share,” and “should not have paid a red cent” towards recent dike upkeep and improvements.

Loewen took issue with the wording of the city’s input into response to the Fraser Basin Council that declared the city would be “seeking” 100 per cent funding from federal and provincial governments.

“I have trouble with the word ‘seeking,'” Loewen said. “I think it should be ‘Abbotsford expects.'”

Loewen also suggested that the city may have “painted ourselves into a corner” by including the cost of the projects in its long-term capital planning for Abbotsford’s diking and drainage system.

Mayor Henry Braun said he agreed with Loewen, and said any work to create a regional river-management body will be doomed without first figuring out who will pay for the cost of improving the Lower Mainland’s dikes.

“I just think we’re going to create another regional authority that is going to have their own set of meetings and investigations and we will be talking about this same topic five and 10 years down the road and that deeply concerns me,” he said. “What we need now is action, not more studies, not more regional authorities. What we need is more leadership at the senior level.”

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