Norbert Le Floch unfolds a map on his kitchen table and points to a collection of municipal roads highlighted in a rainbow of colours.
“This is not a drainage plan,” he says.
The longtime St. Claude-area resident and ratepayer in the Rural Municipality of Grey agrees there is a need for drainage in this southern Manitoba municipality. But he is worried about the downstream impact of a plan to drain one ward with the highest elevation and the lack of consultation with other ratepayers in the RM.
A special service levy has been proposed for agricultural land in Ward 4 — where the work would occur — which would be put “towards drain maintenance and improvements” according to the RM’s proposal.
Paul Gaultier is councillor for Ward 4 and architect of the drainage plan, which would see approximately 125 miles of drainage work staggered over six years. According to the proposal “works will include surveying, licensing, cleanout to ditch bottom, cleanout of vegetation, mowing, etc.”
“There is a real need here for this, the water just sits on the fields,” he said.
But criticism and frustration regarding the plan has been flowing freely since the proposal’s inception last December.
Those affected by the RM of Grey’s proposal have also expressed disappointment with how public hearings have been handled, prompting the Municipal Board to step in to hold an additional public hearing in May.
“The process hasn’t been fair or open,” Le Floch said. “People weren’t given a chance to speak.”
Gaultier said about six ratepayers assisted him in laying out the drainage plan. According to the councillor, they were “elected or appointed” during a meeting in a farmer’s workshop last December.
“It was more or less just an open meeting… we weren’t excluding anyone,” he said, but acknowledged it was not advertised publicly.
After a subsequent public hearing in Elm Creek, further concerns were raised by residents of neighbouring wards who said their objections weren’t considered.
Richard Penner was allowed to speak at the meeting, but said his presentation was omitted from the record because he lives outside of Ward 4. But the former RM of Grey councillor does live downstream from the proposed drainage, near the Elm Creek Channel.
“Our escarpment here is such a sharp drop, 130 feet, so you can’t slow that water down… it’s coming my way,” he said.
He doesn’t dispute the need for drainage; his beef is with the way the proposal has been designed and the lack of public debate.
Penner has spearheaded a petition in opposition to the proposed plan, noting although he has not been given a voice in the process, he will still be left to face the effects.
However, Municipal Services Officer Gail Anderson said everyone will have an opportunity to speak for or against the proposal during a Municipal Board hearing.
Speaking on behalf of the Municipal Board, the local government representative said “everyone will have the opportunity to be heard, regardless of where their residence is, all presentations will be heard.”
The board must approve all special levies proposed in the province, but only holds a public hearing in cases where more than 25 objections or complaints are registered.