It’s been more than a year since a group of farmers, residents and business owners launched a $260-million lawsuit against the provincial government and three years since the 2011 flood that sparked it. Yet, those who believe the operation of the Portage Diversion resulted in the flooding of their lands have yet to see legal action move forward in any significant way.
“The government is dragging its feet, keeping it slow,” said Kevin Yuill, who saw 200 acres of winter wheat submerged during the spring of 2012.
His property is located about three miles north of Highway 227 on the west bank of the diversion, which had its capacity temporarily increased to 33,000 cubic feet of water per second during 2011 flooding, resulting in the emergency fortification of the diversion.
A statement of claim filed with Winnipeg’s Court of Queen’s Bench alleges that the province’s decision to divert an “excessive volume of water” into Lake Manitoba via the Portage Diversion “caused flooding in and around the plaintiffs’ properties and businesses.”
A spokesman for Steve Ashton, Manitoba’s minister of infrastructure and transportation (MIT), said the minister could not comment on the lawsuit as it’s still before the courts.
But in 2013, the province issued a report titled, 2011 Flood: Technical Review of Water Levels. In it, the authors assert that “virtually all property damage around Lake Manitoba occurred while the lake was below natural levels.”
Those who have joined the class-action lawsuit, disagree.
Alex McDermid is named as a plaintiff in the suit, and represents impacted business owners.
Prior to 2011, McDermid and his two sons owned and operated the Sunshine Resort campground near St. Laurent. Not so today.
“I’m hoping, if I could get… another $100,000 I would be able to maybe do something with the campground,” he said. “Because right now it’s finished, there’s no water, no power, no trees, everything has been wiped away.”
The province has compensated him for the loss of his home, McDermid said, but not for the loss of his business.
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Like others participating in the lawsuit, he feels that the provincial government sacrificed those who live, work and farm in rural areas for the sake of those living in Winnipeg.
“They only care about what’s within the city of Winnipeg, as long as they can keep those votes, they’re happy, and the rest us they don’t care about,” said Yuill. “We still haven’t been compensated.”
According to a government official, the Lake Manitoba Flood Assistance program has paid out $108,914,010 in claims to date.
Approximately 13,000 claims were filed and 2.5 per cent of those claims were appealed.
Yuill said that the compensation provided hasn’t fully covered the costs affected landowners incurred.