By Kevin Werner, News Staff
Hamilton councillor Sam Merulla is once again calling on the provincial government to help out the city in the aftermath of a severe storm.
Merulla has proposed a motion requesting city staff discuss possible financial compensation with the provincial government under the Ontario Disaster and Relief Assistance Program. The fund is used when damage is so severe that the city could not feasibly pay for it alone. This is the third time, by Merulla’s count, he has introduced a motion for council to consider applying for disaster relief. In the past the request to the provincial government involved compensating the city for costs associated for flooding clean up. The provincial government at the time denied Hamilton’s requests for compensation.
The public works committee meeting is the first time councillors will be together in 2014 to discuss the storm clean up. The first council meeting of the year is slated for Jan. 22.
Merulla acknowledged the city and Horizon Utilities are still calculating the costs associated with the clean up in the wake of the ice storm that roared through Hamilton and most of Eastern Ontario a week ago. Merulla estimates the private and public costs could be in the tens of millions of dollars.
“We need to assess the damage to our city, and how it will affect the dividend from Horizon Utilities,” he said.
Merulla’s motion comes on the heels of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford requesting the province to cover Toronto’s estimated $10 million clean up cost.
The Ward 5 councillor said Ford is merely making politics out of the storm damage. Merulla said he is going through the proper channels this time, such as asking council to apply to the ODRAP program. Merulla says Hamilton may even have a better chance of getting some funding since the damage was mostly felt in the riding of Liberal MPP Ted McMeekin, that encompasses Flamborough, Dundas, Ancaster, and parts of Glanbrook.
“We have a better shot at the can this time,” said Merulla.
No municipality so far has formally requested help from the province’s ODRAP.
Hamilton Communications Manager Mike Kirkopoulos said city staff has been in contact with provincial officials to discuss how the province may be able to assist the city. He said it’s “too premature” to determine the cost to the city and Horizon Utilities on the impact, but city staff will be calculating the number over the next few weeks.
Toronto officials are including forestry, fire, transportation, police, emergency medical personnel, and utilities in the cost of the storm damage.
Even if the city doesn’t receive any funding, it’s important staff conduct a post-storm briefing to determine how to better respond to these types of disasters, said Merulla.
He said in Europe there are jurisdictions where utility companies are required by law to restore power within six hours. He said something like that may need to be investigated in Hamilton.
“If we just ignore it, nothing would happen,” he said. “The louder we are, the more action can be taken. We need to address the issue.”
Kirkopoulos said city staff is now focused on cleaning up the debris left behind by the storm. Residents should place any branches on the curb as part of their waste collection. For oversize branches, forestry staff will collect the branches over the next few weeks.
Homeowners with tree damage should call the city at 546-2589. The city has also suspended the one-container limit of waste for the Dec. 30 collection period. Horizon Utilities restored power throughout the affected areas Dec. 28.
Kirkopoulos said most of the tree damage was focused in the Flamborough, Dundas, Ancaster and central and east mountain areas.