10/02/2012 01:39 EDT | Updated 12/02/2012 05:12 EST

New Brunswick to spend up to $8 million to relocate homes after flooding

PERTH-ANDOVER, N.B. - The look of a flood-prone village in northwestern New Brunswick is about to change as residents learned Tuesday of provincial funding that will allow them to shift their houses to higher ground.

The province is providing up to $8 million to assist residents in portions of Perth-Andover where river flooding last March caused extensive damage.

Resident Misty Smith says she plans to move her home over a kilometre to a higher elevation.

"It will still be the same community, it's still the same people, it's still the same feel, but we just need to move ourselves to higher ground so that we're more protected," she said in an interview.

The ground floor of Smith's century-old home was submerged under 60 centimetres of water when the St. John River spilled its banks.

The fast-rising water forced 500 of the village's 1,780 residents out of their homes and resulted in about $25 million in damage.

A report released in August suggested moving as many as 72 homes in Perth-Andover, and possibly moving some homes on the Tobique First Nation as well.

Environment and Local Government Minister Bruce Fitch said Tuesday that a total of 80 homeowners in Perth-Andover will be given the option to move, flood proof their homes or accept a buyout.

"Some people like where they are situated, they like their location next to the river and they may be satisfied with saying 'If I could raise my house a foot or two, or change my electrical entrance to the second floor and move my heating up,' they might be happy to stay there," he said.

Fitch said some homes may be impossible to move because of the flood damage or their construction.

Al McPhail, spokesman for a flood victims committee, said a survey he conducted last month indicated that about 70 of the 80 affected Perth-Andover homeowners want to move their homes.

However Mayor Terry Ritchie said he's worried the government has waited too late in the year to make their announcement.

"Considering it's already Oct. 2 and we've had four frost warnings, we can probably only move 15 to 20 homes, so the other people are going to be pressured more towards flood proofing — which I don't think they'll go for — or to accept a buyout," Ritchie said.

"Some of them are just going to leave the village I'm afraid."

Among those planning to move their house is Jonathan Gagnon, who says knowing his home will be above the flood level will allow him to sleep at night.

However, Gagnon said he is anxious to have the government announce help for businesses who were flooded.

"They still haven't addressed anything to do with business, which is as important as these houses, because if we don't have these businesses secured we might as well all move," Gagnon said.

Fitch said discussions about help for business will continue, but announcing help for homeowners was the priority now.

"There was no quick fix and no easy answers, and that is why we took the time required to properly evaluate the study," he told a news conference Tuesday.

For the homes affected on the Tobique First Nation, flood proofing will be available to compliment other measures that were previously announced to help prevent flooding.

The new initiatives announced Tuesday also include $360,000 to backfill a low area and construct a small levee, while $300,000 will be used to upgrade almost a kilometre of ATV trail to allow emergency vehicle access to the Hotel-Dieu Hospital when flooding occurs.

The measures are in addition to nearly $3 million announced last month for work to stabilize riverbanks and improve flood forecasting.