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A billion dollars and counting

2011 flood tab expected to strain budget for years

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The bills for the 2011 flood keep pouring in for the Manitoba government -- and there's no end in sight.

Infrastructure and Transportation Minister Steve Ashton said Friday the cost of battling the flood and subsequent compensation has already exceeded $1 billion.

And the province expects the total to rise to at least $1.25 billion -- an additional $250 million -- before it's all said and done.

Ashton said all structural property damage has been appraised and more than 70 per cent of assistance claims have been completed in what he termed the largest flood recovery effort since 1950.

"This has been a historic effort and it's not done yet," he said.

Two major reports on the flood will be released in the coming months -- one on the regulation of Lake Manitoba and an overall report. The latter will identify flood-mitigation priorities and dwell on the lessons learned from the flood.

The events of 2011 are expected to depress the government's bottom line for the foreseeable future. Not only are the bills adding up, but the extent of damage to roads and bridges is continually being reassessed.

The federal government has advanced the province $100 million so far for its share of flood costs.

Manitoba had earlier estimated Ottawa's share at about $400 million, but with the bills continuing to mount, that figure is expected to go up.

Much of the money still owed claimants will be in the form of disaster financial assistance (DFA). Ottawa covers up to 90 per cent of such costs.

Chuck Sanderson, executive director of Manitoba's Emergency Measures Organization, said DFA payouts could reach $600 million -- or about triple the total of the previous 10 years combined in Manitoba.

Over the spring and summer, a team of appraisers conducted almost 2,500 structural-damage appraisals, with home appraisals given priority. Most payments are expected before the end of the year.

At the peak of the 2011 flood, 7,000 people were evacuated from their homes. As of Friday, 1,986 people were still displaced by the flood, Sanderson said.

Around Lake Manitoba alone, 276 families were evacuated. Two-hundred of those families returned home last summer, with another 20 expected to be home in the coming weeks.

First Nations communities were disproportionately affected by the flooding, with evacuations in 16 communities. Today, six still have evacuations in place.

Meanwhile, the province announced Friday it would compensate flooded-out landowners downstream of the Shellmouth Dam in western Manitoba for flooding in both 2011 and 2012. Until now, the government refused to acknowledge the operation of the dam had caused artificial flooding in the area. But after completing a technical study, provincial engineers determined some flooding was due to the operation of the dam.

Ashton said Friday it could take months for details of a compensation program to be hammered out. He could not say how many landowners may be affected.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 17, 2012 A3


Updated on Saturday, November 17, 2012 at 8:05 AM CST: replaces photo

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