Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Brandon's flood plan springs a leak

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BRANDON -- Reeve Reg Atkinson of the RM of Cornwallis is concerned about the City of Brandon's proposed flood-protection plan. "We have three properties that will be severely affected by this," he says. "This plan puts three families in jeopardy, and not just their livelihoods. Their lives."

Unveiled to city council by city staff two weeks ago, the plan calls for the construction of new dikes along portions of the Assiniboine River, along with the improvement of existing dikes, drainage outlets and wastewater-collection systems.

While allowing for the flooding of First Street North in floods of greater than one-in-100-year severity, the plan also contemplates increasing the elevation of PTH 110, Brandon's eastern access route, so it can also act as a dike. Work is slated to begin on that dike in a few weeks.

It is the plan to raise PTH 110 and the lack of communication that bothers Atkinson. "Nobody from the city or the province ever talked to us about that, even though raising 110 will direct water into the RM and put those three properties in jeopardy," he says. "They still haven't contacted us."

He empathizes with Brandon's desire to protect itself from the threat of future flooding, but argues Cornwallis should have been involved in the formulation of the plan and Brandon's protection should not come at the expense of Cornwallis property owners.

"I want the city to agree in advance to compensate these property owners for any harm they might suffer because of this plan," he says. "It's the fair thing to do."

The city has not responded to Atkinson's concerns and has not made any offer to the affected property owners.

The issue of the plan's impact on Cornwallis is just the latest in a series of issues that have delayed efforts to provide Brandon with improved flood protection. In 2006, then-premier Gary Doer promised to work with the city to provide one-in-100-year protection. City council was never told about Doer's promise, however, and the protection was not delivered.

During the height of the 2011 flood, Premier Greg Selinger promised one-in-300-year flood protection for Brandon. Five months later, Manitoba Infrastructure and Transportation officials briefed city councillors on planned flood-protection measures and it was projected they would be completed before the spring of 2013.

In December 2011, Selinger told the Brandon Sun, "We are moving ahead with one-in-300-year flood protection. The tenders are out on that." In reality, no tenders had been issued at that time, and the engineering drawings had not even been completed.

Senior provincial officials presented those drawings to Brandon city council in May of last year, but the city assumed control of the project two months later. With that handing-off of responsibility came a revised plan and a revised completion date of the fall of 2013. It was later changed to the fall of 2014.

The new plan pushes the completion date back even further, to the fall of 2015, but there could be further delays if modifications are required in order to address the concerns identified by Atkinson.

It means Brandon will continue to have worse than one-in-100-year flood protection until at least the spring of 2016, exposing city businesses and homeowners to the ongoing threat of millions of dollars in flood-related losses.

Why is it proving so difficult for Brandon to get the flood protection it was promised? The province had a plan in place, complete with drawings, to deliver one-in-300-year protection by the spring of 2013. It had committed $20 million to the project. It should have insisted on proceeding with that plan.

Instead, for reasons that have still not been adequately explained, the province abandoned control of the project and the result is a strategy that fails to provide one-in-300-year protection for the entire city, that allows for the flooding of a provincial highway and part of Cornwallis, and won't be completed for at least another two years.

This is a situation that required leadership from the Selinger government, and still does. It needs to ensure the protection promised for all of Brandon is delivered without causing downstream harm to Cornwallis.

Deveryn Ross is a political commentator living in Brandon.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 25, 2013 A13

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