Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Sandbag machine no use to RMs, Tory says

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A new sandbag machine Premier Greg Selinger unveiled in Brandon in the lead-up to the spring flood fight hasn't been used once despite the rising water, the government was told Thursday.

Minnedosa Progressive Conservative MLA Leanne Rowat, who represents several rural communities fighting overland flooding, told the legislature the machine has only been used for a "photo op" for the premier. The machine was intended to be used by RMs outside Brandon, which has its own machine.

But Rowat said the province's rules for using the machine are too onerous for the municipalities -- they have to go to Brandon, supply the workers, the sand and the bags, then make the sandbags themselves. They then have to truck the bags back to their communities.

She said the RMs of Elton, Cornwallis, Glenwood and the town of Wawanesa are instead making sandbags by hand instead of using the machine.

Rowat said the province should have already made the sandbags and provided them to the communities before the water hit.

"The issue, to me, is that government should take some leadership on this," she said. "You brought this machine out there. You did the photo-op and the communities are not using it.

"It's a $35,000 machine and it can make 35,000 bags in eight hours. That's significant."

Emergency Measures Organization Minister Steve Ashton accused Rowat and the Tories of playing politics with the flood.

He said the province is helping to build a dike in Brandon to protect 900 residents there and is taking action across the province.

"We are dealing with unprecedented flood in term of geographic scope," he said, during question period.

During a flood briefing later, EMO head Chuck Sanderson said the flood-hit communities had the choice of using the machine.

"They chose the method that is best for them," he said.

For example, the RMs of Cartier, St. Francois Xavier and Headingley got inmates at Rockwood Institution to make 100,000 sandbags last month in preparation for the spring flood.

Sanderson said the machine can be moved to a flood-prone area. "The ministry of transport works with them to get it functional," he said.

Sven Kreusch. emergency measures co-ordinator for Souris and RM of Glenwood, said the town didn't use the machine because it wasn't feasible.

"The way we understood it is that you have to go there and do your sandbags beforehand... like if you know you're going to have an issue 10 to 15 days before," he said. "It wasn't feasible for us because we had a bit of an emergency situation."

Souris declared a state of emergency and issued a boil-water advisory on Tuesday after the Souris River surged three feet in a day and sent flood water seeping into the town's water pumphouse.

bruce.owen@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 15, 2011 A11

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Updated on Friday, April 15, 2011 at 12:06 PM CDT: Corrects typo.

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