Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Property owners miffed at pace of city response

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Businessman Kurt Shmon doesn't understand why city hall can't hire private contractors to help city crews thaw frozen water lines that have left hundreds of property owners without water.

"I need water for my lab, and if this goes on much longer, I'm going to have to turn away work," said Shmon, president of Imperial Seed on Arlington Street. "Only the City of Winnipeg can get away with treating people in such a manner."

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Imperial Seed is one of nearly 300 properties -- homes and businesses -- across Winnipeg left without water when the underground water lines began freezing 10 days ago.

Homeowners have resorted to melting snow, using the local YMCA and buying jugs of water daily.

The city blames the unusually cold weather for the frozen water lines -- there hasn't been this many in 35 years. But the city is unable to use additional measures to deal with the situation.

'I need water for my lab, and if this goes on much longer, I'm going to have to turn away work'

-- Kurt Shmon (below), president of Imperial Seed on Arlington Street, with the empty water jugs he needs to refill throughout the day so he can remain open

Coun. Justin Swandel, chairman of the public works committee, dismissed as inaccurate and misleading news reports detailing the plight of businesses and individuals affected by frozen water lines.

"We are using everything at our disposal," Swandel (St. Norbert) said.

The city increased the number of thawing crews to three from one. They work seven days a week. It has also added a crew to work overnight five days a week.

But union leader Mike Davidson blamed the situation on a staff shortage as a result of a hiring freeze.

Davidson, president of CUPE Local 500, said political and management decisions to freeze hiring as a tax-saving measure have resulted in too many civic departments operating with a minimum number of staff.

Residents told the Free Press they were initially told they'd have to wait three to four days, but when that passed, they said the city stopped telling them when help would arrive.

Shmon said after his lines had been frozen for a week, an employee of the water and waste department told him he could be waiting for another week to 10 days before city crews could get to his business.

"Dealing with the city on this has been very frustrating," Shmon said.

There are private contractors who can thaw out the lines, Shmon said, but they won't get involved for fear of being held liable for damaging city water lines.

Shmon said the city should hire the firms but it refuses.

Mother Nature won't be helping Winnipeg, either. Environment Canada says the extreme cold temperatures will be with us for at least another week, as a polar vortex descends on most of Canada.

Environment Canada is calling for colder-than-normal weather for March, April and May.

On the weekend, Coun. Russ Wyatt revealed city snow-clearing equipment is sitting idle in garages because the city doesn't have enough heavy-duty mechanics to repair them.

Several civic directors warned councillors during the December budget deliberations they didn't have enough staff to do their work.

Swandel would not say whether the city would authorize hiring additional staff or reallocate staff to repair the broken snow-clearing equipment.

aldo.santin@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 26, 2014 B1

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