Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Firestorm over fire-hall study

Havixbeck wants to see total report

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The new fire-paramedic Station No. 11 inside the cloverleaf at Portage Avenue and Route 90.


The new fire-paramedic Station No. 11 inside the cloverleaf at Portage Avenue and Route 90. Photo Store

Tempers flared at city hall Wednesday over the administration's refusal to release key portions of a traffic study into the new Route 90 fire station.

Coun. Paula Havixbeck pressed Mayor Sam Katz and his executive policy committee to release the full study and, in return, she was attacked by Katz and Coun. Justin Swandel, who questioned her motives and suggested she wasn't telling the truth.

Havixbeck (Charleswood-Tuxedo) said she's been waiting months for the city administration to release the Stantec traffic study.

"People are telling me there's no way we would have approved building a fire hall in a cloverleaf had we seen this report," Havixbeck told EPC, adding she wants to know if EPC members knew the hall was built despite a report stating it was unsafe.

The Route 90 fire station was one of four built in the controversial fire-hall replacement program, which was the subject of an external audit by consulting firm Ernst & Young.

The audit concluded the program was over-budget and one of the fire halls was built on land the city still does not own.

Ernst & Young said the whole program was badly managed and preferential treatment and information were provided to local developer Shindico, which ended up building all four stations. Shindico has rejected the auditor's findings.

The Route 90 fire station was increased in size 40 per cent, largely accounting for the over-expenditure. Reports said it was Shindico that suggested building the station inside the cloverleaf to save the city the expense of buying additional land and controlling the project costs.

Portions of the Stantec traffic study were released to the Canadian Taxpayers Federation as a result of an access-to-information request, but three chapters that outlined analysis, recommendations and findings were withheld.

The city initially said the three chapters were withheld at Shindico's objection, which Shindico has publicly denied. The city administration then refused to release the chapters on the basis they form advice to government and can be withheld.

"It's important that we release the report in its entirety," Havixbeck said. "I'm questioning whether public safety is jeopardized and whether there is risk to citizens."

Havixbeck said when the fire-station location was brought to a community committee in July 2011, she and other councillors were not told of the report's existence.

But Katz told reporters Wednesday Havixbeck is not telling the truth or has a poor memory, adding the study was referred to in an administrative report prepared for an Assiniboia community committee meeting.

"Many members of EPC as well as administration were extremely shocked to hear some of (Havixbeck's) comments," Katz said. "They were very inaccurate...

"She's either forgotten or made an honest mistake or just not telling the truth."

The Stantec study is mentioned in passing in a 10-page administrative report that said there were no civic departmental concerns with the Route 90 location.

The public works department stated it supported the fire-hall location if mitigation efforts recommended in the Stantec study were implemented to deal with "safety and operational issues inherent with" the cloverleaf site.

However, the Stantec study was not part of the administrative report and the public works concerns were not elaborated.

Swandel (St. Norbert) said he questioned why Havixbeck would raise concerns the administration has said do not exist.

"It leads me to believe that (Havixbeck's) motives may be something other than the best interests of the city; it might be a little more self-serving," Swandel said.

Katz said he has never seen the traffic study but accepts the advice of the administration when they say there were no traffic and safety concerns linked to locating the fire hall at the cloverleaf.

But he said he sees no reason the entire study shouldn't be released, adding he will ask the administration for an explanation.

The CTF's Prairie director, Colin Craig, said it appears Katz and members of his EPC are allowing the administration to deliberately withhold information from council and the public.

Craig said the entire fire-hall replacement program was mired in controversy and EPC and he administration should want to release the traffic study to assure the public there aren't any other problems.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 13, 2014 B1


Updated on Thursday, February 13, 2014 at 8:47 AM CST: adds photo

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