Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Resident spins wheels over back-lane complaint

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Home Street resident Maria Manu received an insulting letter from her councillor's office after she complained about the lack of back lane plowing this winter.

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Home Street resident Maria Manu received an insulting letter from her councillor's office after she complained about the lack of back lane plowing this winter.

Was it a snarky response from a city councillor's office or the start of a simple misunderstanding?

That's what Maria Manu wondered after she tried to register a complaint over the condition of her back lane this month.

Manu lives on Home Street. Following a frustrating winter filled with occasional plowing, she finally had enough and called the city.

"Our back lane has been hardly cleared this winter," she said Friday. "My neighbours get stuck in there and we don't even bother calling 311 anymore because they put you on hold for an hour and a half.

"Who has time to sit on the phone for that long when your car is stuck in the back lane?"

Manu said when she finally did get through to the city information operators, she was told to register her back lane, wait for a week and if there's no response, try again.

"What is seven days when you keep getting stuck all the time?" she said.

The back lane is a combination hiking trail and skating rink, with pockets of deep ruts that swallow tires in and refuse to let go.

Tumbling through the lane also came with a hit to the pocketbook. Manu needed a tow truck to pull her compact SUV out of the ruts one morning -- a $78 cost she had to absorb.

After a week had passed, Manu tried another route and called the councillor in her Daniel McIntyre ward, Harvey Smith. She left a message regarding her back lane and the possibility of damage to her vehicle and on Wednesday, received a letter from Smith's office.

Only it wasn't what she was expecting. It was a photocopy of a page from the Manitoba Public Insurance driver's handbook, detailing various safety procedures on how to drive in snow and icy conditions.

"They sent me a letter telling me how to drive," she said. "And that's it, nothing else.

"I don't need you to teach me how to drive -- I need you to clean my back lane."

A spokesman from Smith's office confirms they sent correspondence regarding MPI, but that was only one of two letters. The MPI photocopy was a response to a question Manu left on the office answering machine regarding her vehicle, he said.

"We did write up her back lane as a service request and she should have received a letter from us on that, as well," the spokesman said Friday. That letter was sent Thursday, he added, understanding the potential for confusion and agitation.

The spokesman said public works had been contacted and they should have inspected the location within one business day (earlier this week). If they deem the back lane needing further maintenance, it will be completed within six business days.

Manu is sympathetic. The windrows in the back lanes have been high and people ran out of places to shovel snow.

She knows the city is doing its best to get through one of the worst winters in recent memory.

Most of her frustration, though, is from the initial lack of response she received.

"I know that everybody is complaining about this and that," she said. "I just wanted an explanation. I just wanted to talk to someone. Maybe I'll hear something else... maybe they'll clear the back lane.

"I just didn't like the rude response I got."

adam.wazny@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 29, 2014 B2

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