Abbotsford city officials apologize for letter about ditches

Residents of rural upland areas were told they would be responsible for maintaining waterways bordering their properties.

Sumas Mountain residents were among those who were told

Sumas Mountain residents were among those who were told

City officials are clarifying and apologizing for a letter to upland rural Abbotsford residents, which said they will be responsible for maintaining the ditches and streams on and bordering their properties.

Nevertheless, it remains possible the city could introduce a new ditching and drainage fee to pay for the work.

The letter, received last week, tells residents of the rural upland areas of Bradner, Mount Lehman, Sumas Mountain and Vedder Mountain that they will be responsible for maintaining waterways – only after obtaining the proper approvals from city hall, the provincial Ministry of Environment, and federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

It also recommends residents hire a civil engineer and environmental consultant to coordinate the work.

The letter references a 2008 attempt to implement a drainage tax in these areas, similar to the drainage and dikes tax paid by residents of Sumas and Matsqui Prairie, but how the fee was not levied “due to strong local opposition.” It was signed by general manager of engineering Jim Gordon.

Daren Alary was the spokesman for a citizens’ group, the Rural Ratepayers Association, which formed to fight the tax. He said the letter had a tone of retribution.

“Staff didn’t like the fact we kicked up a fuss,” he said, adding the revenue – more than $800,000 – was already in the city budget for that year.

“Clearly, this is the backlash for us standing up.

“At the end of the day, all of these (ditches) are on city property. They don’t even belong to the individual,” he said.

Abbotsford Mayor Bruce Banman agreed with Alary that the letter was confrontational.

“I’m not impressed with how it was worded – the tone of the letter,” Banman told The News.

He said it was written by staff, and he did not see it before it was mailed.

“I would have kiboshed the thing. All it does is ruffle a bunch of feathers that don’t need to be ruffled.”

City manager Frank Pizzuto said there is an issue with funding rural ditch and waterways maintenance that needs to be resolved, pointing out residents of Matsqui and Sumas flats pay a ditching and diking fee. He said the city has maintained upland rural ditches out of these funds, which is “robbing Peter to pay Paul.”

Alary said the proposed fee of $18.50 per acre would have cost him about $1,600 per year, which he believes is too much for ditch maintenance. He said residents of Sumas and Matsqui are charged to support infrastructure such as dikes and pump houses, which are not needed in the uplands.

Brian Kingman, who was also with the ratepayers’ group, said he has heard from 23 people who were upset by the letter.

“We pay general revenue taxes for them to look after our road allowance ditches,” he said.

Pizzuto said residents are not being asked to do any ditch maintenance. Council will deal with the issue of how to fund this work in the rural uplands, and he said a new fee could be reintroduced.

Pizzuto apologized for the letter, and said an update will be published on the city website and released to the media.

Chilliwack and Mission both maintain ditches using funds from general revenue.