Southwest reeve slams province’s 2011 flood response record

The provincial government’s handling of the 2011 flood has come under fire from a group representing 40 rural municipalities and towns in the southwest corner of the province.

The province needs to step up its efforts in the area hard hit by severe overland flooding of the Souris and Assiniboine rivers almost one year ago, said Rick Plaisier, co-chair of the Southwest 2011 Flood Strategy Committee and reeve of the RM of Sifton.

“They’ve made some progress, but not enough as far as we’re concerned,” said Plaisier.

The group lauded the government’s decision to conduct an independent flood review, but alleged the flood mitigation study’s special focus on Lake Manitoba and Lake St. Martin shows that some areas are “favoured over others.”

“Our organization strongly feels that our southwest corner is not being treated equally” said Plaisier. “If this kind of flood had happened on the Red River, there would be an instant program.

“The present provincial government favours where it gets the majority of its votes from. But you know what? The rest of us are not second-class citizens.”

But a senior provincial official says flood management and mitigation is a “critical” issue, and a major flood-mitigation study, undertaken by an independent consultant, will also look at “all potential methods” for alleviating flows on the Assiniboine, Qu’Appelle and Souris rivers and the Dauphin Lake area.

It also includes a proposal for a provincial surface-water management strategy to create a co-ordinated approach combining farm groups, municipalities, conservation districts and other agencies, said Steve Topping, executive director for Manitoba Infrastructure and Transportation.

“The surface-water management strategy will be kicked off very quickly,” said Topping, adding a firm timeline has not yet been established.

Topping denied that certain areas are being favoured, noting for example that a home, business and farm flood-mitigation program is in place province-wide, and a community diking program has invited RMs and towns to submit applications.

Among a list of other grievances outlined in a recent press release, Plaisier called for special compensation in the southwest for landowners who are forced to hold surface water to prevent damage farther downstream, and special compensation or grants to assist RMs not covered by present programs to help repair roads affected by washed-out bridges and traffic diversions.

Plaisier also criticized the NDP government’s “tardiness” and “inconsistency” in rolling out disaster financial assistance to affected homeowners.

“Some people have sent their applications three times because DFA indicates that they’ve lost their applications,” said Plaisier.

Topping said that he has had numerous discussions with Plaisier about overland flooding on the Oak Lake and Plum Creek marshes. Last spring, officials decided they could not comply with the Sifton reeve’s call that PTH 254 be cut to give relief to flooded landowners in the area due to the risk of aggravating damage to properties downstream in nearby Souris.

Although a special program like the one for the area near Hoop and Holler Bend is not in place, compensation for affected landowners is being paid out under the Disaster Financial Assistance program, said Topping, noting 82 private and one public claim has been filed in Plaisier’s RM.

“There have been a significant number of claims filed to date, and over $500 million has been paid out,” he said.

Preliminary repair work for road and bridge infrastructure is well underway, with $105 million committed, “but it does take a substantial amount of time,” said Topping.

Plaisier also complained of a lack of effort on the part of the province in getting Saskatchewan and North Dakota to work with Manitoba to find ways to control water entering the southwest corner of the province. He noted that officials from the northern U.S. state and Saskatchewan have already sat down for talks.

“We’re wondering why Manitoba isn’t at the same table,” he said.

Topping, who sits on the Prairie Provinces Water Board, said “tremendous” co-operation is coming from Saskatchewan on the issue. He added that Manitoba is also part of the International Joint Commission which has a mandate to prevent flooding on the Souris River watershed.

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