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Mountain View County residents tout need for local emergency fund

Reserve could help property owners recover more quickly in wake of natural disasters, says Bergen-area resident John Bargholz

MOUNTAIN VIEW COUNTY — Practically two months to the day after a devastating tornado felled most of their trees, destroyed several outbuildings along with most of their fencing and also caused substantial damage to their home that was left uninhabitable, a Bergen-area couple feels frustrated by what they consider to be a slow response not only by the local and provincial governments but also the process dealing with their insurance adjuster.

The property owned by Judy and John Bargholz – located straight east of the old Bergen Store along the north side of Twp. Rd. 320 – has to a large extent been tidied up since the July 7 storm produced a tornado later rated EF-2 by Environment and Climate Change Canada.

But the tell-tale signs of Mother Nature’s wrath have left the property scarred. A piece of lumber akin to a huge splinter from one of the trees shattered to pieces by the powerful winds remained firmly embedded in the roof of one the few outbuildings that weren’t completely written off.   

The couple was among more than a dozen people in the area whose properties also sustained widespread damage.

A common refrain echoed among those who spoke with the Albertan: help and support from their neighbours and members of the community, alongside volunteer organizations like citizens on patrol as well as search and rescue, proved more dependable during their time of need than either the local or provincial governments.

“I’m really surprised that the county doesn’t have an emergency fund for interim stuff for quick relief for people,” John said on Monday, Aug. 29 during an interview while taking a brief break with Judy from the ongoing clean-up effort.

Although natural disasters are relatively rare in the area, it’s not like they’re completely unheard of. So, having some kind of quick response relief reserve in place could alleviate at least some of the pressure on property owners in the aftermath of calamity, he said.

“(Just) because there’s no program for it, doesn’t mean you can’t make a program,” he said. “We’re a pretty rich county, I don’t understand why we can’t have a disaster relief reserve.”

The idea would be to have in place an emergency relief funding program that property owners could more quickly tap into to start rebuilding, followed later by filing paperwork. And if the ensuing process revealed a landowner unreasonably stretched their claim, the county could bill the amount back to the owner or “put it back on their taxes,” he said.

Any emergency relief funding in the short-term so people recovering from a natural disaster aren’t for months left lingering in uncertainty would have been welcome, he said.

Overall, the cost of the damage their property sustained was in the ballpark of $1.5 million, not all of which will be covered by insurance – such as $20,000 in perimeter fences not covered, not to mention the expense involved in removing all of the trees as well as their outbuildings, he said.

The loss of their pasture’s fence line has also meant they’ve been unable to continue leasing the parcel to a cattle producer.

“We’ve lost our income from our cows,” said Judy, adding that dealing with their Edmonton-based adjuster who didn’t seem to know they live in a forested area has also been a frustrating experience.

“Through the shock in all of that, at first we didn’t know the questions to ask,” she said.

Her first query in the tornado’s immediate aftermath was what could be done about the debris and trees scattered all over the property, but she was told none of that was covered.

“There’s been many a day that we’ve just wanted to go lock the gates and leave,” she said.

The couple agreed people should consider carefully reviewing their policies to make sure they understand their coverage.

“Sit down and know what every line means,” said John, urging especially careful attention to addendums and appendixes.

“The saving grace throughout all of this has been Westland, our broker, and another broker in Calgary that have been behind us the whole way, pointing out all (the adjuster’s) mistakes, re-doing all his calculations,” said Judy.

Nearly two months later, the couple said the situation has become a bit more manageable but added the road ahead remains long.

“We’re still living out of a holiday trailer,” he said.

The couple has for now decided to stay on the property, which they are reluctant to leave unattended.

“Because there’s still people driving in, taking pictures,” said Judy.

And while they intend to proceed with having their house torn down and rebuilt, that’s not likely to happen any time too soon. Although the couple had the house covered under a guaranteed replacement, progress has been painfully slow.

“They do all the measurements and stuff like that, and then they put it out for bid for somebody to rebuild that same house the way it was the day before the storm,” said John, adding once the insurance company has obtained a quote, it has to decide whether to go ahead or attempt to pay out the owners in a lump sum.  

“We feel that this is why they’re dragging their heels on everything, from content to rebuild,” said Judy, adding the couple has the impression their insurer just wants them to toss in the towel and accept the cash payout.

“They’ve made us mad enough now that we’re not accepting any payout,” she said.

“They’re going build us a new house no matter what it costs,” added John. “It’s incredibly frustrating, just the speed it moves and the hoops you got to jump through to replace the stuff you own.”

Recognizing with gratitude a load of gravel the county made available to them, the couple nevertheless feels more could be done to help in a more timely manner.

“We had three big loads of tin that we got rid of,” said John. “Thank God there’s a recycler in Sundre that came and got it for nothing – he didn’t charge us and we didn’t expect anything for it.”

However, a large dumpster bin that must be trucked out can cost about $1,500 to dump off a load at the county landfill, he said, adding a waiver or at least a reduction in that fee would have been nice.

“But there was nothing,” he said.

“We’re 14 people, we don’t garner a lot of votes,” said Judy.

Simon Ducatel

About the Author: Simon Ducatel

Simon Ducatel joined Mountain View Publishing in 2015 after working for the Vulcan Advocate since 2007, and graduated among the top of his class from the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology's journalism program in 2006.
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