Municipal leaders opposed to merging two western-area conservation districts say the move won’t save a cent, and the new ‘super district’ to be created will cost more and not less to operate.
Turtle River Watershed Conservation District (TRWCD) and Intermountain Conservation District (IMCD) met with provincial authorities last week to argue their case for not merging, and to raise the concerns they’ve had about doing so since the province unveiled its plan last fall to redraw the CD map and amalgamate Manitoba’s CDs along watershed boundaries.
Nine supporting municipalities of the two CDs have all signalled opposition by resolution to the merger, with concerns relating both to the two CDs’ very different mandates, plus fears of more, not fewer costs associated with amalgamation.
TRWCD is an infrastructure CD, with a mandate to manage ditches, drains, bridges and crossings, while IMCD’s mandate is to offer for natural resource conservation, and the concern arising has been that the latter would find costly new infrastructure responsibilities dumped on them.
But at last Friday’s meeting in Dauphin, the province said the merger will proceed, although the two will be allowed to continue operating under their existing separate mandates.
“They want to roll both of us together and try to keep the two programs separate in the same CD,” said Shawn Buchanan, chair of the TRWCD and a councillor with the Municipality of McCreary.
They’ve also been told they can continue to operate two offices under the merger (TRWCS’s is in Ste. Rose du Lac and Intermountain’s is in Ethelbert) and that funding will remain at levels to staff them at current levels.
“What we were told is that we will be getting the same funding as what we have.”
And funding falls short of costs now, without having to pay the extra costs they know will come with amalgamation, he said.
“We don’t see any cost savings at all forcing us to combine to a bigger district,” he said.
“It’s actually going to cost more. You’ll have to allocate money to rebrand and rename a new conservation district. There’ll be increased costs for travel, for reps to go to more meetings per month. All the way around it’s going to cost the local municipalities more money than what they’re going to see benefits from.”
Grievances about lack of cash isn’t new for any existing CD, with funding from the province historically falling short of needs for years.
Buchanan said under their current mandate that’s increasingly worrisome, and the need for money to do their job is only going to grow.
“Bridges and culvert crossings of various sizes… they’re all reaching their 40- to 60-year lifespan and they’re going to need to be replaced in the next few years. There’s just not enough funding with this existing formula to do any of that infrastructure replacement. So there’s going to have to be a lot more external funding either coming from one or two different levels of government above us.”
Other arguments against merging TRWCD and IMCD were that neither is upstream or downstream of the other, plus combining the two districts means being in charge of steeply sloped — and highly erosion- and flood-prone — landscapes off both Riding Mountain National Park and Duck Mountain Provincial Park.
Jody Tucker, manager of TRWCD said he’s tried to access grants and other sources of outside funding for conservation funding for their CD, but it’s problematic for their area.
“The majority of the time we’re not in the focused areas,” Tucker said. “We’re in the Lake Winnipeg basin but we’re not near Lake Winnipeg and we’re on the wrong side of the park for anything to do with Ducks Unlimited or Manitoba Habitat Heritage Corporation programming. So that’s concerning for us. We really have zero conservation programming. It shows up on the landscape and that’s where it counts.”
His counterpart in IMCD said the whole matter has produced a lot of uncertainty for the two CD teams, and adding to those worries is that some municipalities may decide to withdraw their financial support from the new entity altogether. A looming municipal election only adds to that uncertainty, said Jeff Thiele, IMCD manager.
All of their supporting municipalities have signalled they opposed merging the two CDs, Tucker said.
“All of them said they want it to stay as is.”