Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Breezy Point resident denies advance offer of sandbags

Says he was pledged clay dike

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RM of ST. ANDREWS -- The owner of a home destroyed by flood waters last week near Breezy Point angrily disputes government claims he was offered help in advance to protect his riverfront home.

Early Friday morning, when an ice jam on the Red River drove up water levels north of Selkirk, the resulting flood overwhelmed temporary tube dikes around John Webb's home on the east side of Breezy Point Road.

After the property was lost, the head of Manitoba's Emergency Measures Organization suggested Webb declined an offer of sandbags and equipment from the Rural Municipality of St. Andrews.

No such offer was made, Webb insisted Wednesday. He said he was promised a clay dike from the municipality because it would have taken 40,000 sandbags to protect his property, which also flooded in 2009, 2002 and 1996.

"We were told we were going to be protected by a clay dike," Webb said outside his now-vacant home, which remains surrounded by tube dikes.

"Up until April, I had no idea I wasn't getting a clay dike," said Webb, who is now living with his son in Selkirk. "In all honesty, this house is finished. This house is lost."

Webb claimed the offer to build clay dikes was made by municipal officials in March. But at a public meeting on April 3, area residents were told it was too soon to build those dikes, said St. Andrews resident George Pike.

"They said we don't have to do that until we had a state of emergency, and that will be two or three weeks down the road," Pike said. "By the time you have a state of emergency, it's too late."

Webb did not, however, produce a paper promise of a clay dike for his specific property. St. Andrews Reeve Don Forfar said no such promise would have been made, as construction on the $5.2-million St. Andrews community dike promised by Premier Greg Selinger won't get underway until later this year and a separate provincial program aimed at individual properties has yet to begin.

"I've known all along he was not going to get a dike," said Forfar, referring to Webb.

"I don't want to diminish his pain, but he never, ever took efforts to protect himself."

Part of the sandbag dike volunteers built around Webb's property in 2009 has never been taken down, added Forfar, noting sandbags deteriorate when they're exposed to the elements.

Webb said neither he nor his wife are in sufficiently good health to engage in heavy labour and concedes he is tired of fighting floods and losing.

"Until you flood, you don't know what it feels like," he said.

He is not certain whether he will try to save his property, which he said is beginning to become mouldy. "I'm not sure what I'm going to do. I haven't even thought about it."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 14, 2011 A4

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