By Kevin Werner, News Staff
Hamilton politicians were pleasantly surprised the provincial government indicated it would help to cover most of the city’s costs incurred during the December ice storm.
“It’s great news,” said Ward 4 councillor Sam Merulla. “I’m a little bit shocked.”
Mike Zegarac, corporate services general manager, said, though, the announcement by the Liberal government Feb. 25 that it would cover the ice storm costs of municipalities that applied for compensation remained vague and city staff still had questions.
The one-time program created by the province is expected to cover the costs incurred by 32 cities and towns.
The Municipal Affairs Minister Linda Jeffrey said the province would cover up to $190 million based upon the estimates of the ice storm costs municipalities have provided the province. The province would fund 100 per cent of municipalities’ “eligible recovery costs” through a new Storm Assistance Program. Those eligible costs include opening warming centers and cleaning up debris.
“We don’t know what ‘eligible costs’ are,” said Zegarac. “We don’t understand the definition of the eligible costs.”
Hamilton’s ice storm costs have ballooned from an initial $5.6 million, to about $19 million. The figure includes costs incurred by Horizon Utilities, and the Hamilton Conservation Authority, said Zegarac.
He told councillors that city staff will be meeting with provincial officials to better understand the announcement and how the city can access the program.
“The devil is in the details,” said Dundas councillor Russ Powers.
Powers, the president of the Association of Municipalities of Ontario, said the organization endorsed Hamilton and other cities’ request for compensation for the ice storm costs from the province.
Powers said he is confident the province will cover most of the city’s costs.
“We will be quite pleased,” he said.
Merulla was still flabbergasted at the province’s relatively quick assent to cover the municipalities’ expenses. But he also pointed out that a possible election could be happening later this year.
“I want to thank the province,” he said, adding the timing could be linked to a spring election.
Ancaster councillor Lloyd Ferguson said the city’s efforts to clean up tree limbs in his area, which was one of the hardest areas impacted, has been delayed until late April. He said people did put out their tree limbs at the curb, but those limbs are now buried under snow drifts and covered in ice. Ferguson said it will take another month to let the tree branches thaw out so they can be disposed properly by city crews.
“People understand when told of the issue,” he said. “It’s still great news (about the provincial government’s announcement).”
The ice storm struck Hamilton a few days before Christmas, and left debris and power outages across the Mountain, Ancaster, parts of Dundas and Flamborough. About 30,000 homeowners were without power for a few days.
The city has received about 10,000 calls about damaged trees, and they had work crews out six days a week cleaning up the mess after the storm.
Jeffrey said the province will be applying to the federal government’s Disaster Financial Assistance Arrangement Program to get the necessary money to cover municipalities’ expenses.