[UPDATED: Nov. 14, 2019] Municipalities say the winter storm over the Thanksgiving weekend is going to cost them, and they’re looking to the province for help.
The Association of Manitoba Municipalities (AMM) has formally requested a disaster financial assistance program for its impacted members in light of storm cleanup costs.
Why it matters: An early storm last month downed trees and hydro lines, put countless residents on generator power and racked up bills for municipalities.
The three-day storm that swept over southern Manitoba Oct. 10-12 is already expected to be expensive. The wind and heavy snow took out hydro lines and left some parts of the province without power more than a week later.
Manitoba Hydro reported over 3,500 hydro poles damaged beyond repair and about 810 kilometres of power line that needed to be restrung. Challenging conditions and record-breaking power outages forced the utility company to reach out to its counterpart agencies in Saskatchewan, Minnesota and Ontario for help, and additional crews and equipment from those areas arrived in Manitoba in the days following the storm. Manitoba Hydro now estimates that cleanup will top $100 million, CTV News reported Oct. 20.
Some of Manitoba’s municipalities also “incurred a quite excessive cleanup cost,” AMM executive director Joe Masi said.
As well as snow clearing and cleanup from downed trees, Masi noted that areas such as the City of Portage la Prairie incurred costs from hosting stranded travellers after all hotels in the region filled up and residents fought with days of blanket power outages.
“This is an unprecedented storm and caused a number of municipalities a great deal of damage and they had to look after people because of the hydro being off and so on,” he said.
The disaster funding itself is nothing new. The province has a long history of disaster financial assistance programs following an event like the October storm, such as its common brushes with spring flood damage. Most municipalities are familiar with the process and paperwork involved in asking the province for help, Masi noted.
“It is used for anything that’s uninsurable,” he said. “That’s what we’re sort of calling on the province to (do). We obviously recognize that this is big enough to probably warrant even federal involvement… We’re just asking the provincial government to bring forward a disaster program for municipalities to help with some of the cost that will be a great strain on their budget if they don’t get some assistance.”
The AMM has sent out information on what is eligible for disaster funding and how to launch a request to its member municipalities.
Several municipalities have already started that process, Masi said. Those local councils have already passed resolutions and have filed the required paperwork.
Cliff Halaburda, reeve for the RM of Grahamdale, says his RM is among those municipalities.
“We had to hire some extra equipment and extra help to clear the roads,” he said, pointing to his northern municipality’s size.
“We’ve got 750 miles of road and how do you do that in a hurry with two machines?” he said. “There certainly is extra cost looking at it that way.”
Halaburda says it will be some time until the RM knows exactly how much the storm has cost them and their residents. His municipality was among those with widespread and prolonged power outages, some of which had yet to be resolved as of Oct. 28.
Those without power will have taken a hit on gas cost, he said. Many who lost power relied on generators to make up the lack.
Masi says the city and RM of Portage la Prairie have also both started the request process.
The province has not yet confirmed whether a financial assistance program is incoming, the AMM says.
*The province says it has reached out to the federal government to meet with Winnipeg city officials, provincial officials, the AMM and Indigenous communities on, “eligibility criteria, associated damages and to the determine the appropriate course of action.”
*UPDATE: The article was updated to add comments by the provincial government that were not available at press time.