Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Two years and still waiting for promised compensation

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The reaction to the Feb. 22 news story regarding Lake Manitoba property owners has been disheartening, to say the least. So many responses have been negative and unsympathetic:

"Manitoba is in a flood plain! It should be expected that land gets flooded. Why should the government have to pay?"

"If I understand your claim, you think every time it rains, you should be compensated if it happens to be inconvenient."

"Those who purposely build a home next to the lake should not be covered for flood insurance. While I do feel for the hardship of the property owners and understand their frustration with the government... these are the trials and tribulations of farming on a floodplain."

"Pay them money? What for? They choose to live there, so they can move."

It seems there is much misunderstanding about the flood of 2011. First of all, Lake Manitoba is not on a flood plain. Many people, and their ancestors, chose to settle and stay around Lake Manitoba because, unlike the Assiniboine or Red River Valley, it is not a flood plain. Property around the lake has been in many families for several generations and has never been flooded.

Second, the flooding of Lake Manitoba was not an act of God. It was an act of government.

This artificial flood zone was created to save those downstream on the Assiniboine, including the city of Winnipeg. Unprecedented amounts of water were diverted for months from the Assiniboine River, down the man-made Portage Diversion (1970) and into the lake. Water volumes up to 34,000 cubic feet per second were forced down the diversion -- 9,000 cfs more than its original design capacity.

Many will argue this was indeed the right decision. Flood a few to save many. And at the time, Premier Greg Selinger and Finance Minister Stan Struthers promised full compensation for all losses and damages incurred in 2011 and beyond.

Hundreds of people showed up to last Friday's meeting because this has not happened. Losses cited were anywhere between $65,000 and $300,000. Would you not be upset if you had essentially had this much income stolen from you?

We have been sitting and waiting patiently for promised compensation. Two years have passed -- and we are still waiting. The appeal process has generated sympathy, but nothing else.

Land two or three miles from the lakeshore was still underwater in October 2011. Flood water caused crop and cattle producers to incur additional losses in 2012. The provincial and federal governments are busy pointing fingers and playing the blame game -- and we wait.

Meanwhile, land values have plummeted and increased salinity as a result of flooding is adversely affecting potential crop production. Homes, cottages and businesses have been destroyed. Some can rebuild, others cannot. There are issues with water quality, pumping stations and debris. Roads and bridges have yet to be rebuilt or repaired.

Farmers, ranchers, home and cottage owners, First Nations, businesses and campgrounds all around the lake have been detrimentally affected by this intentional flood. Everyone should be adequately and fairly compensated for their losses -- as promised.

Concern is growing for what this spring will bring. Lake Manitoba is still at 811.7 feet -- the top end of the operating range is 812.5 feet. There is a tremendous amount of snow, not only here, but in Saskatchewan as well. It appears as though the Assiniboine River will once again be swelling at its banks. There is no doubt as to where that water will flow once again if there is any threat to the city of Winnipeg.

Struthers did acknowledge that the problem is the "cork in the bottle at Fairford." This outlet is indeed one of the issues in regulating the level of Lake Manitoba. And, yes, an emergency channel was dug at the north end. Even though it is not yet operational, Struthers was quick to give credit to Selinger.

"There was no premier in the history of this province who undertook to get an emergency channel built and pay $90 million to get it done," he said. "When that channel is done and being used to control the lake levels... my premier, your premier gets some credit when the work is done."

It is difficult to give our premier credit when it has been two years and the work is not complete. He has never shown up to any meetings with the people around Lake Manitoba. He has not kept his promise to compensate us.

Adding to the frustration is that many people want us to suck it up or move. Would you be willing to have your life and livelihood put on hold -- expecting compensation that never comes and having your future uncertain because the government controls what will happen to your property?

We took one for the team, and may have to do so again this spring. Can someone please tell me why we should continue to sit back quietly, continue to incur losses and wait and see?

Sandi Knight and her husband farm 10 kilometres north of Macdonald. Their crop and hay lands were flooded by Lake Manitoba in 2001.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 27, 2013 A11

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