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Law alum’s experience with flood recovery brings understanding to legal community

Tervita encounters myriad issues as southern Alberta rebuilds
September 20, 2013
Rob Van Walleghem, executive vice-president of Tervita, speaks at the University of Calgary

Rob Van Walleghem, executive vice-president of Tervita, speaks to the Faculty of Law’s first Assentio Mentium event of the 2013/2014 year.

More than 12 weeks have passed since Calgary and southern Alberta were hit with unprecedented flooding as the Bow, Elbow and Highwood Rivers breached their banks. In the aftermath, the cleanup efforts began across the region, with volunteers, organizations and companies pitching in to remove mud and debris and to help families rebuild their homes and lives.

Tervita is one of the companies that stepped up to help southern Alberta rebuild. Those efforts, along with some of the legal issues involved, were the discussion of the Faculty of Law’s first Assentio Mentium event of the 2013/2014 academic year.

Rob Van Walleghem, LLB’88, executive vice-president, health and safety, environment and general counsel, spoke to more than 50 members of Calgary’s legal community, students, faculty and alumni on the topic of natural disaster law and some of the legal issues and laws at play during the recovery and rebuilding efforts.

Tervita found itself having to navigate a myriad of legal issues beyond simply responding to the flood itself: from public law and policy, to contracts, liabilities and risk management, legal issues around contracts, service providers, and volunteers.

“If there is anything about emergency response that’s clear, it’s that you must be prepared,” says Van Walleghem. “Tervita will share our clauses, contracts and experiences with jurisdictions and governments across the country to ensure similar events are well managed. We understand the value of collaborating with other companies and services providers when participating in relief efforts.”

Calgary and southern Alberta are still rebuilding, and as a result, many of the legal issues related to recovery work are still unknown. As Van Walleghem points out, “Individuals and companies are not responsible for damage done due to their actions in preventing, combating or alleviating the effects of a natural disaster. It will be interesting to see what sort of legal actions come out of the events of this summer.”

“Rob’s presentation brought to light the wide variety of legal issues that can come up as a result of a natural disaster,” says Ian Holloway, dean of the Faculty of Law. “The Assentio Mentium event gave students, faculty and members of Calgary’s legal community a better understanding of the issues and how we can deal with these issues over the long term and in the future.”

Follow UToday flood coverage: More stories, photos on how the University of Calgary community responded to the disaster.