Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Dike delay, reservoir levels cause concern in Brandon

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BRANDON -- The city of Brandon could be more vulnerable to flood damage in the spring of 2013 than it was in the spring of 2011.

That is the reality Brandonites are coming to grips with following the revelation last week the one-in-300-year flood protection that was promised to them by the Selinger government following the 2011 flood will not be completed until the fall of 2013 at the earliest.

The level of concern is exacerbated by the fact the Shellmouth reservoir -- which was designed to protect downstream communities like Brandon from flooding -- already is full to its 500-million-cubic-metre capacity.

The overflow from the reservoir already flooded almost 50,000 acres of downstream farmland. If the volume of water in the reservoir cannot be reduced significantly over the next few months, there will be no effective means of controlling the volume of flood waters flowing towards Brandon next spring.

Depending on the amount of rain this fall and the snow this winter in western Manitoba and eastern Saskatchewan, Brandonites could be forced to endure a repeat of the anxiety and expense they experienced during the spring of 2011.

With that troubling reality in mind, the decision to delay construction of dikes to protect Brandon is difficult to fathom.

The timeline relating to the decision only adds to the confusion.

On May 24, 2011 -- at the height of the 2011 flood -- Premier Greg Selinger promised $20 million for one-in-300-year flood protection in Brandon.

Five months later, Manitoba Infrastructure and Transportation officials briefed Brandon city council on planned flood-protection measures.

Detailed technical drawings were shown to council members, and it was projected the measures would be completed before the spring of 2013.

On Dec. 27, 2011, Selinger told the Brandon Sun "We are moving ahead with one-in-300-year flood protection. The tenders are out on that."

Fast forward to last week, however, when a front-page story in the Brandon Sun revealed "The City of Brandon has taken over the estimated $20-million construction project of the Assiniboine River dikes from Manitoba Infrastructure and Transportation" and the projected completion date is now the fall of next year.

"While the province had said they wanted to get the dikes up and running right away, we've been saying we have a little more time to be able to get the critical pieces done first," Ted Snure, the city's general manager of development services, told the Sun.

"It puts the whole thing under perspective rather than a we-they scenario... we have it all being done under one design and under one roof."

While it is tempting to read between the lines in an effort to deduce what has really transpired here, the province is taking the high road in response to the situation.

In a prepared statement, provincial cabinet press secretary Rachel Morgan told me, "These are municipal dikes, so it makes sense for the City of Brandon to take the lead on construction."

She added: "The province continues to fund the dikes and supplies project management and engineering advice to the city."

Though both sides claim to be comfortable with the new approach, Brandon would have had enhanced flood protection in the spring of 2013 under the province's timetable, but won't have that protection until the spring of 2014 at the earliest under the city's plan.

By taking control of the project and pushing back the completion date, the city is gambling there won't be a serious flood next spring.

Given the current full-to-capacity condition of the Shellmouth reservoir, however, that is a multimillion-dollar bet few taxpayers would make.

If the province is concerned, it certainly isn't showing it.

"It is too early to tell what the flood situation will be next year," Morgan said, "but the province stands ready to work with Brandon on flood mitigation, as we have all along, including using the super-sandbag machines used in 2011."

That is exactly the scenario Brandonites had hoped, and were led to believe, they would never see again.

Deveryn Ross is a political commentator living in Brandon.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 9, 2012 A11

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