Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

St. Laurent diking plan slammed

Residents outraged as lakeside homes will be sacrificed to save town buildings

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A new 10-kilometre diking system to protect properties, schools and businesses in the RM of St. Laurent from a flooded Lake Manitoba will sacrifice dozens of lakeside homes, residents say.

The ring dike, being built on the east side of the lake immediately north of Twin Lakes Beach, will exclude lakefront homes at Sandpiper Beach. And at least one property is being partly expropriated this week to allow the dike to run more in a straight line.

"I'm just so angry," an emotional Muriel Robinson, 72, said Thursday as she and her husband Lloyd, 76, made plans to empty out two garages that will soon be knocked down to make room for the dike.

"Through this whole thing I've never lost my temper," she said. "But seeing the water today and them just waiting for us to get out... We're giving up our garages and part of our property, but we'll still be on the wrong side of the dike."

Robinson and her husband, former antique dealers, and their neighbours have repeatedly asked the RM and the province -- the province is providing financial aid and expertise on the dike -- for more information and how they'll be compensated, but to date have got the runaround.

The Robinsons were allowed temporary access to their home of 17 years Thursday to make moving plans. The area remains under a mandatory evacuation that likely won't be lifted until January.

"They're just running by the seat of their pants," said Sandpiper resident Doug McGiffin, whose retirement home will also be outside the dike. "Don't they have some sort of responsibility to notify people who are directly affected?"

A provincial spokesman said the St. Laurent dike is a municipal project and the province would not comment. St. Laurent Reeve Earl Zotter was unavailable.

McGiffin, a retired school trustee and Winnipeg firefighter, said he learned where the dike will be built by looking at a map that's only available at the RM of St. Laurent office, although residents have posted earlier versions of it on the Internet.

Progressive Conservative Leader Hugh McFadyen said Thursday it's for exactly this kind of situation that Premier Greg Selinger should recall the legislature so MLAs can ensure flood victims are treated fairly.

"It just illustrates that there is an urgent need to recall the legislature so that there can be accountability for all of these major decisions that are being made and have such a dramatic impact on people's lives," McFadyen said.

McFadyen also said the legislature should scrutinize bigger decisions, like the proposed building this fall of a new diversion to drain Lake Manitoba into Lake Winnipeg before next spring.

"Otherwise, decisions are going to be made behind closed doors that have a lasting or permanent impact on the lives of Manitobans," he said.

NDP house leader Jennifer Howard said the legislature will not be recalled as it will do nothing to further the flood fight.

"I think this is more about using a disaster to play politics," she said. "We're on the eve of an election and the opposition has chosen to grandstand and play politics with this and I think that's shameful, frankly."

Howard said there have been lots of opportunities for the opposition to ask questions on the flood outside of the legislature, including a briefing this afternoon for McFadyen and Liberal Leader Jon Gerrard.

McGiffin, his wife Joanne, the Robinsons and hundreds of other Manitobans are living in hotels until they're allowed to go back to their homes.

They and others in the south basin of Lake Manitoba were evacuated in late May when high waves crashed into hundreds of cottages and homes at Delta and Twin Lakes beaches, destroying some and heavily damaging many others.

The fear is with the lake being at its highest recorded level -- measured at 817.41 feet above sea level Thursday and to peak between 817.7 and 817.8 feet at the end of the month -- another windstorm blowing up high waves could be catastrophic.

That's spurred the RM and the province to build the dike to protect as many properties and other buildings as possible.

The lake is as high as it is because of unprecedented flooding on the Souris and Assiniboine rivers. Flood water is funnelled into Lake Manitoba via the Portage Diversion near Portage la Prairie.

bruce.owen@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 8, 2011 A4

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