Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Coping in the flood zone

Businesses face trouble, costs

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The river's rising, the dike's been leaking, and Melita car dealer Dwight Murray is starting to sweat.

"Two days ago I was pretty confident," the owner of Southwest Pontiac Buick GMC Ltd. said Monday.

Murray said that two years ago, the municipality added two feet to the dike that protects his dealership and about a half a dozen other businesses at the south end of town where the Souris River overflows its banks.

"We thought we were good forever, to tell you the truth," Murray said. "But here we are now with only about 18 more inches before the water gets us again."

He said everything changed Sunday when the Souris rose another seven inches in less than 24 hours and the dike sprang a leak. Although they were able to plug it Monday morning, he and his business neighbours are worried the dike won't be enough to hold back the raging river, which may not crest until later this week or next.

So on Monday, Murray had his employees move all of the dealership's cars to higher ground -- the parking lot at the town's arena. And his brother Dwayne, who owns the D.B. Murray Ltd. John Deere dealership just down the road, was doing the same thing.

"They've been moving equipment out all day," Dwight said.

Monday was an eventful day for more than just the Murrays and their neighbours.

The Manitoba government also closed Highway 75 -- the province's main overland link to the United States -- further adding to the flood-related woes of businesses in the Red River Valley and beyond.

V-Bins in downtown Morris had already taken steps to minimize the impact of the highway closing. It relocated about 30 per cent of its inventory of grain and fertilizer bins to Altona and Winkler.

General manager Garth Stevenson said even if the last access road into Morris gets blocked off and the firm has to halt production, it will still be able to deliver product to its customers from its temporary quarters in those two locations.

But it's anything but business as usual for truckers who use Highway 75 to haul goods to and from the United States. They have to take a 100-kilometre detour west via Highway 3. Manitoba Trucking Association executive director Bob Dolyniuk said that's expected to add $1.5 million a week to hauling costs.

"Obviously that is going to be passed on to shippers and ultimately to the consumer," Dolyniuk said. "You just can't run 100 kilometres for free."

For many manufacturers, like Steinbach window manufacturer Loewen, the highway closing means it's going to take a little longer to get supplies in and product out. Instead of cutting across country to Highway 75, southbound trucks will now have to loop around Winnipeg and up Highway 3.

But at least shipments will get through, said company spokesman Jon Sawatzky, so the disruption to Loewen's operations should be minimal.

Paul Peloquin, owner of a Ste. Agathe firm that manufactures hopper bottoms for grain bins, also isn't getting worked up about the flood, even though he expects it will force him to temporarily halt production.

Peloquin's home and shop were both flooded in 1997. But he doesn't expect that to happen this time.

"When you've gone through (a flood like) '97, anything else is a cakewalk," he said.

murray.mcneill@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 19, 2011 B6

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