Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Shindico balked at release of traffic study

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SENIOR city officials withheld the release of a traffic study for the new Route 90 fire hall after developer Shindico objected to the document's release through a freedom of information request.

Shindico suggested the location and was given the contract to build the fire hall.

Senior city officials -- acting fire chief Bill Clark and public works director Brad Sacher -- told the public works committee Tuesday the request for the document, from the Canadian Taxpayers Federation (CTF), was originally turned down because they had wrongly believed Shindico, which arranged for the study, had the right to block it.

Sacher and Clark added, however, the CTF filed a complaint with the ombudsman's office, which ruled Shindico had no say in the document's release. But they continued to withhold the document because they considered the entire report advice to government and exempt from disclosure.

Only after the ombudsman's office intervened again, stating only a limited portion of the traffic study could be withheld, did Clark say portions of the traffic study were released to the CTF.

Colin Craig, the CTF's Prairie director, said he was puzzled by the administration's position on the traffic study.

"There's been a great deal of lost trust within the public for city hall, and you would think (the public service) would do everything they can to increase transparency and accountability," Craig said, adding he's doubtful the public service will release the complete report to council.

The portions of the traffic study that are still kept behind closed doors at city hall include discussions about the original location for the new fire station, analysis of traffic flows at the Route 90 site, and the conclusions and recommendations from the consultant about the merits of the Route 90 location.

Clark told the committee he wasn't comfortable releasing the remaining portions of the study because they provided key insight into the final decisions surrounding the Route 90 location.

"There were assumptions, ideas, options that were really part of the dialogue that went back and forth between (Shindico) and the (traffic study) consultant that were part of the decision-making process," Clark said, adding the city has the discretion to withhold that information.

The construction of the Route 90 fire hall was part of an external audit into the fire hall replacement program. The program was several million dollars over budget -- largely because the Route 90 hall was increased in size by 40 per cent without council approval -- and described by the auditors as badly managed.

The auditors concluded Shindico, which built all four fire halls, was given preferential treatment by the public service.

Council has since ordered external legal advice to determine if the public service acted in any way that would leave the city open to a lawsuit from other developers.

The administration's refusal to release the remaining portions of the traffic study caught committee members Dan Vandal and Jenny Gerbasi by surprise.

Vandal (St. Boniface) said he didn't see any valid reason to withhold the remaining portions of the traffic study since the audit was completed on the fire hall replacement program.

"We're wasting so much time discussing this issue," Vandal said. "Release the report and let everyone have a look at it."

Vandal and Gerbasi said they weren't aware a traffic study had been done. Sacher said the report wasn't provided to the councillors.

"What was the advice?" Gerbasi (Fort Rouge-East Fort Garry) said. "Was this a good idea to do this the way it was done?"

Committee chairman Coun. Justin Swandel said he isn't concerned with the administration's actions, as long as they were legitimately complying with FIPPA legislation.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 5, 2014 B1

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