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Extreme weather costs are pushing rural Ontario towns to the financial brink

The southwestern Ontario town of Glencoe, which faced a one-in-a-century rainstorm resulting in serious flooding this week, is the latest rural community that's having trouble paying bills as a result of such extreme weather.

Repeated shocks from heavy rain, flooding force Glencoe to go cap-in-hand to the province

A flooded Street

The mayor of Glencoe, Ont., says the cost of cleaning up and repairing the damage from Wednesday's deadly rainstorm has pushed his rural community to ask the province for financial relief.

Environment Canada said Wednesday the town received 135 millimetres of rain during a downpour that turned driveways into ponds, roads into streams and filled basements with sewage.

So much rain fell so fast that it caused Dundonald Road, the town's most important thoroughfare, to collapse — opening up a three-metre sinkhole that provincial police said swallowed a transport truck, killing the driver.

Environment Canada called Wednesday's storm a once-in-a-century weather event, one Glencoe Mayor Al Mayhew told CBC News would carry a big bill for his rural community of 2,000 people.

It's the latest example of the kinds of repeated shocks from extreme weather that have pushed some rural communities to the financial brink, forcing them to go to the province to pay for damages to the vast network of roads and other infrastructure that their small tax base and modest municipal budget can't cover.

Small towns can carry big weather burdens

"The cost of the this extreme weather event is significant for a municipality of our size and our population," Mayhew said, adding the municipality will pay $100,000 just for the HVAC trucks that are running 24 hours a day to pump the water out.

"That may not seem like a lot of money to a larger urban centre like London, but for a small municipality, that is a significant amount of money."

On top of that, he said, the town has recalled its full complement of road maintenance crews from their summer holidays to repair any damage to the community's 800-kilometre road network that may have occurred as a result of Wednesday's intense storm.

"We certainly are very appreciative of our staff. Our road crews have been extremely generous to come out of vacation," he said. "We're very pleased with that."

At this point, the final cost of the damage in his community is difficult to tally, Mayhew said. However, he was confident the sum will be more than his community can pay, forcing to go cap-in-hand to the provincial government.

"My CAO [chief administrative officer] has just recently advised me that, moments ago, he has put a communication out to the Ministry of the Environment and the Minister of Housing looking for funds to assist Southwest Middlesex in bearing the cost of this enormous rain."

Mayhew said he has also had a conversation with the area's Progressive Conservative MPP, Labour Minister Monte McNaughton.

In an email to CBC News on Friday, McNaughton said he will endeavour to work with the community to help it recover.

"My heart goes out to all those impacted by the storm. Working with Mayor Mayhew, we stand with the residents of Glencoe and will support them as they get back on their feet."

Ontario small towns paid some $5.5M in relief in 2022

A report published in 2021 by the federal government identified rural communities as among the most vulnerable to extreme weather in Canada because of their dependence on stable conditions for crop growth and their relatively small populations.

In Ontario last year, the province gave out $5.5 million in grants to 22 rural communities in eastern and southern Ontario to help pay for damage caused by extreme weather, something Mayhew believes is becoming more common.

"Regardless of your outlook on climate change, they [extreme weather] seem to be occurring more frequently. This is the third extreme rainfall we've had in four and a half years."

It might be a few weeks before the community can truly assess the damage of Wednesday's storm. Farmers living on the community's rim are also taking stock of their sodden fields where corn and soybeans are still under metres of water.

"No idea what the cost is gonna be," said Don Crawford, a local farmer who's been working the fields since 1965.

He said his corn and beans are under water in some parts of his fields, but the water has been slowly receding since this morning, offering him hope the sweat of his brow this growing season isn't a total wash.

"The drainage systems are working," he said, adding he'll know how many bushels he's lost in a couple of weeks.

Until then, he said, he's at the mercy of the weather.

"I don't think we're going to have a crop like last year, that's for sure, because that's one of our best years. That usually follows by one of your worst ones. That's just the name of farming.

"You just hope that it averages out."

Credit belongs to : www.cbc.ca

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