Edmonton to release flood maps after privacy battle

Insurance Bureau described the issue as a ‘critical’ and one that could affect insurance rates

Insurance News

By Lucy Hook

The City of Edmonton is to release its neighborhood flood maps within 60 days after it lost a privacy appeal to Postmedia.

City officials had denied Postmedia’s first Freedom of Information and Privacy request for access to the maps, arguing that disclosure could affect property values and hurt the economic interests of the city, Edmonton Journal reports.

Postmedia had argued that Edmonton residents have the right to know if their homes are at risk, even if it could negatively affect some property values.

But on Thursday, the provincial Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner overturned the initial decision after Postmedia appealed, ruling that the city can use discretion to release the maps to Postmedia.

The Commissioner’s senior manager, Catherine Taylor, found that the information would not substantially harm the city, but that it should be released even if it would.

She said: “After reviewing many, many thousands of pages of records over the last 20 years, I am of the opinion that these records represent one of the times when discretion should clearly be exercised in favour of disclosure.”

The vice-president of the Insurance Bureau of Canada, Craig Stewart, said the issue of sharing flood maps with homeowners is becoming a critical one.

Stewart admitted that public disclosure could affect insurance rates, explaining that “the more data is available, the better we are able to access risk,” – which may lead to an increase in rates for some homeowners and a decrease for others.

However, he said that homeowners “have a right to know their flood risk and how their insurance rates are being determined.”

Edmonton’s maps, which were developed by combining precise topographical maps with maps of the underground sewer system to see what would happen if a one-in-100-year storm delivered roughly five centimetres of water in 90 minutes in specific areas of the city, have not been shared with insurance agencies.

However, the IBC has its own new, detailed national maps for overland flooding, which it developed in 2015 to help the insurance industry offer new policies.

Overland flooding insurance policies are important because governments only pay out disaster assistance when no insurance is available, Stewart said.

Overland flooding applies where rain falls and runs into a basement through a basement window or door, for example, and some of these policies are now available in Edmonton, Stewart said.

City officials have asked for 60 days to prepare a communications plan around the release of the maps, but the exact timeline and details of the release are still being negotiated, Edmonton Journal reports.

City spokeswoman Sarah Meffen said in an emailed statement that the 60 days “will allow the city sufficient time to compile additional information, data and facts to accompany the maps to ensure homeowners, stakeholders, the public have complete, easy to understand information with the appropriate context so everyone is properly informed.”

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