Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Manitoba businesses don't expect flooding to sink profits

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With a late winter storm raging and angry flood waters rising, businesses up and down the Red River Valley are determined they will not have to break stride.

Sean Crew's Ste. Agathe hemp product manufacturing operation, Hemp Oil Canada, was not in business in 1997 when that town was swamped by the Flood of the Century, but he says he does not believe his business is going to be disrupted this year.

"Times are different now," he said in an interview on Wednesday. "Governments -- municipal and provincial -- have a much better handle on emergency measures for these sort of things. And Ste. Agathe has a ring dike that was not there in '97."

Even so, there is plenty of scrambling and strategic planning going on throughout the valley and disruptions are inevitable.

Mike Lovecchio, spokesman for Canadian Pacific Railway, which operates the region's main north-south rail line from Winnipeg into the United States at Emerson, said CP is monitoring the water levels. Although rail service has not been affected, it likely will be before long.

"We expect sometime after April 1 the line probably will be closed," he said. "The decision will be triggered on recommendation from Manitoba Water Stewardship in consultation with us."

Even before the river's crest is anywhere near Winnipeg, businesses are already being affected by North Dakota flooding.

Buhler Industries ships about seven or eight large farm tractors south across the border from its Fort Garry plant every day.

Brad Romano, logistics manager at Buhler, said the company expects to incur additional mileage charges from its carriers who will eventually have to detour about 100 kilometres around the I-29/Highway 75 corridor.

"We're still getting equipment up and shipping product as usual. But will it have an impact? I am sure it will," he said. "We will have delays."

Buhler also has plants in Morden and in Fargo, N.D., with product heading in both directions. Even before the roadways are thoroughly disrupted, the company is feeling the effects of the flood waters.

"I was just talking today to our people in Fargo and there are employees down there who had to leave the facility to go sandbag. It's not good."

There are alternate routes for truckers to get goods back and forth, and carriers are probably hoping that there are more customers like Romano who said that he expects to share the additional costs with the carriers.

Bob Dolyniuk of the Manitoba Trucking Association said additional costs caused by the 1997 flood ran into the millions of dollars.

The alternate route when parts of Highway 75 are closed runs west through Winkler and back to Highway 75 along Highway 3. But that only works if the Emerson/Pembina border crossing remains open.

Dolyniuk said the logical alternative to Highway 75 south would be Highway 59, but the southern part of that highway is under spring road restrictions and trucks are prohibited from using it.

Agricultural producers in the region have their own worries. It's too early for crop seeding, but Ian Wishart of Keystone Agricultural Producers said even though most farmyards are diked with their grain bins protected, plenty are not.

"Some older yards where no one lives are not diked up to '97 standards and those bins need to be emptied," said Wishart. "There are extra trains in the valley to allow more grain movement to get the stuff our here. That is going on now."

He said some livestock will be moved but many farmers will "try to ride it out."

Wishart said most of the hog barns in the valley with pathogen-free herds which cannot be moved are diked to higher standards than the municipal ring dikes. "So are the lagoons," he said.

Dolyniuk said he is disappointed that Highway 59 is not up to commercial standards and Crew said it's "unbelievable" that such a major corridor as Highway 75 is not secured enough to be able to remain open during flooding conditions. But the general sentiment is that the valley's commerce will continue to function, despite the maddening temper of the Red.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 26, 2009 B4

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About Martin Cash

Martin Cash joined the Free Press in 1987 as the paper’s business columnist.

He has spent two decades chronicling the city’s business affairs.

Martin won a citation of merit from the National Newspaper Awards in 2001 for his coverage of the strike and subsequent multi-million-dollar union settlement at the Versatile tractor plant. He has also received honours and awards for his work on agriculture and technology development in Manitoba.

Martin has written a coffee-table book about the commercial and industrial make-up of the city, called Winnipeg: A Prairie Portrait.

Martin Cash on Twitter: @martycash

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