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Channel must drain lake, residents say

Lake Manitoba flood victims still haven't heard any long-term plan

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The only way to rebuild around Lake Manitoba following last year's devastating flood is to build a new channel to drain it into nearby Lake St. Martin, RM of Coldwell Reeve Brian Sigfusson says.

"People are not going to be happy with buyouts because that's not a long-term fix," Sigfusson said. "It won't solve the problem. It's just putting a Band-Aid on it."

Many questions for the province

Almost a year after extreme flooding hit Lake Manitoba, those who live and work around the lake are still picking up the pieces.

The group that represents them, the Association of Lake Manitoba Stakeholders, is to meet with the province shortly about several unresolved issues. They include:

What should be the lake's regulated level? Its current level is 813.55 feet above sea level, down from its height of 817.12 during the flood, but still one foot higher than 812.2 feet, the upper end of the long-term average level of Lake Manitoba. The lake is expected to hit 812 feet in the fall.

What will be the province's policy on using the Portage Division in future floods?

Will the province change some compensation program guidelines to better serve the affected property owners, including buyouts and covering more than $2,000 for engineering costs for people who plan to rebuild?

What are the costs and timelines in removing temporary dikes?

Who's responsible for the cleanup and water-quality issues?

What's Ottawa's involvement in compensation for the broader definition of disaster financial assistance to include all property owners?

Will Manitoba assist affected property owners in future years on property taxes? Will the province also assist municipalities that have seen their tax base erode?

Sigfusson said to get people confident in rebuilding homes, cottages and farms around the lake, the province has to commit to building a new channel from Watchorn Bay on Lake Manitoba to Lake St. Martin to drain the lake more quickly of flood waters when the province activates the Portage Diversion.

"Without the drain, there's really no future," he said. "Buyouts are no future for us."

The province launched the Lake Manitoba Regulation Review Committee in February to examine water levels on Lake Manitoba and Lake St. Martin. Its recommendations are to be submitted this year.

Others on Lake Manitoba say a new channel is the only way to save Lake Manitoba. Lake St. Martin now drains into Lake Winnipeg after the province cut an emergency channel after last year's flood.

"I don't care where they put it. Just put it somewhere to give people confidence to come back," Langruth resident Dee Dee Anderson said.

Until the flood, Anderson and her husband, Darrel, operated the thriving Big Point Retreat, but the water claimed all but 17 of 90 cottages. The wreckage still has to be cleaned up.

Anderson said the biggest issue for her is how the province will help residents restore the lake to pre-flood conditions. She said she has a contractor lined up to repair a flooded-out access road to start that process, but the province has yet to say whether the government will pay for it.

"The thing is we have no income," she said. "And we can't seem to get any assurances we'll be paid."

Cheryl Smith, president of the Association of Lake Manitoba Stakeholders (ALMS), which represents those who were flooded out, said the province has to do a better job of communicating what compensation programs are available.

"It's almost like they're learning as they go," the still-evacuated Sandpiper Beach resident said.

Many residents are still waiting to find out how they'll be compensated for their losses, she added, and they may launch a class-action suit against the province. The province has paid out almost $575 million for flood damages and has received close to 30,000 applications for compensation.

ALMS is to meet with government officials shortly in an effort to iron out some of the problems.

Langruth alfalfa farmer Jonas Johnson said he faces a second year of being unable to use his land. Almost all of the 1,350 acres he farmed are ruined because of flooding.

"We've all spent our lives contributing to the economy of Manitoba and now we just sit here wondering what will happen to us," said Johnson, 65. "I don't feel like being a 70-year-old farmer trying to get the land back to what it was."

A provincial spokesman said because this year is so much drier, pastures that were inaccessible last year may be accessible this year, and the province will work with producers to restore forage fields. Producers can also purchase AgriInsurance and have access to a variety of AgriStability programs.

bruce.owen@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 16, 2012 A6

History

Updated on Monday, April 16, 2012 at 10:39 AM CDT: Specifies that 812.2 feet is the upper end of the long-term average level of Lake Manitoba.

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