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Ice storm aftermath: Toronto Environmental Alliance says GTA lags in preparing for extreme weather - Toronto Star

January 9, 2014
Paul Moloney
Toronto Star

Climate change effects should raise weather from No. 10 on the list of priorities to No. 3, agrees city manager Joe Pennachetti.

Toronto is woefully unprepared for the next big storms, says the head of the Toronto Environmental Alliance.

The July floods and last month’s ice storm show that the threat of severe weather sparked by climate changes can no longer be downplayed, said Franz Hartmann.

Hartmann said the issue of preparedness, although it’s been under study at the city since 2008, needs a higher priority.

“They’re focusing all of their energy on emergency response, as opposed to making the investment now to make sure our urban infrastructure is ready,” said Hartmann, the alliance’s executive director. According to its website, the alliance is a not-for-profit group seeking solutions to Toronto’s urban environmental problems.

“It’s putting the emphasis on what do we do after the storm, as opposed to what do we do to prepare for the next ones,” he said.

Toronto city manager Joe Pennachetti agreed that extreme weather needs more attention.

In the past, weather ranked around number 10 as a priority issue at the city, but it should probably move up to number three, behind transit and social housing, Pennachetti said.

The Toronto and Region Conservation Authority alone could use $200 million for flood mitigation measures along the city’s rivers, he told reporters Thursday.

“We can’t do it alone on the property tax base. We need partners and we need to start talking, fast.

“This is an infrastructure program that’s needed with all three levels of government, that will be hundreds of millions (of dollars) across Canada, possibly billions, for mitigation of severe weather events.”

Pennachetti said storm-proofing infrastructure is as important as negotiating disaster funding from the province to offset $171.2 million in damage to city assets from the two storms — $106 million for the ice storm and $65.2 million for the flood.

City council meets Friday to craft a request for disaster funding from the provincial and federal governments. In Mississauga, also hard hit by both events, Mayor Hazel McCallion is urging municipalities to band together to fight for help from the province. Her city pegs the ice storm cleanup cost at $25 million. Brampton estimates its cost at $51 million.

Pennachetti said Southern Ontario suffered probably $250 million in ice storm damage, comparable to the 1998 ice storm in eastern Ontario that resulted in the province paying $178 million to affected municipalities.

At Queen’s Park, Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Linda Jeffrey’s office is keeping a close eye on various cities’ demands for disaster assistance.

“Our ministry has engaged with municipalities that were affected by the recent ice storm, including Toronto,” Jeffrey’s press secretary Mike Maka said Thursday.

“We understand that on Friday council will consider the report asking for Toronto to be declared as disaster area. Should this report pass a council vote, our ministry will work with the city to review its eligibility for ODRAP (the Ontario Disaster Relief Assistance Program),” Maka said.

NDP MPP Peter Tabuns (Toronto-Danforth) said Premier Kathleen Wynne’s government should expedite aid to municipalities affected by the ice storm.

“Every jurisdiction is hurting. Ontario has a disaster-relief program for a reason,” he said.

Councillor Gord Perks said city staff have been working on the extreme-weather issue since 2008, when council adopted a climate-change strategy called Ahead of the Storm.

In recent years, Toronto Water has been upgrading stormwater pipes and adding retention ponds to alleviate the backups that flood homeowners’ basements, Perks said.

New Green P parking lots are now required to use permeable paving and plant trees, and new buildings are installing cisterns to store rainwater and relieve pressure on the sewer system, he added.

“Municipalities all over the world are struggling to figure out how to deal with this. We need to examine best practices around the world and start to redesign our city for a different climate.”

Adapting to these changes is a big job, Perks said.

“I occasionally get frustrated because I want us to move faster. But the city since 2008 has been doing good work. We just need to do more of it.”

With files from Robert Benzie.

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