Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Controlled flood some extremely painful dice to have to toss

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RM OF HEADINGLEY -- Monique Gagnon feels like she's won the lottery. The only problem is she got lucky at the expense of strangers.

Gagnon and her husband built their large, beautiful house on the banks of the Assiniboine River four years ago. It has soaring ceilings, a massive open kitchen and a deck where they can sit and watch the river flow by.

Flood Fight

It's bucolic, the sort of place you'd love to raise a family. They're situated just past Sherlmerdine's on Roblin Boulevard, living in an area that was once forest and is now home to expensive new houses built on big lots.

When the provincial government was faced with a Sophie's Choice -- who would they flood and who would they save? -- the Gagnons' house ended up on the safe side. Some people up the river will lose their homes and livelihoods. This family will be just fine.

"I've been feeling terrible," she says. "I feel so sorry for those people who are going to be sacrificed. We're sitting pretty here."

The family sandbagged a small ravine on their property. That's all the preparation they needed. Daniel Gagnon, Monique's husband, has been out helping a less lucky neighbour sandbag.

Still, Gagnon has her worries.

"What if the controlled flood doesn't work? What if they're wrong?"

Gerald Menard lives next door to the Gagnons. His house was built in 2005 and is also large and architecturally arresting. There was no flooding on the property in 1997. The stay-at-home dad of four says he's been out sandbagging in the nearby town of Headingley, helping out at a store and some homes.

Like Gagnon, he feels pity for people facing the inevitable.

"These people are going to get their houses flooded. They never expected that. It could be us. It could be any of us."

Further up Roblin, Bob Shettler is blunt in his opinion on the government's action.

"If I were those people. I sue," he says. "If I were those people such a lawsuit I would file. I don't care if they're saving 500 places. Those are homes. Those are someone's homes."

He doesn't believe his house is in any danger, despite the fact the river has climbed at least 30 feet up onto his property. It still has a long way to go.

The retiree and his wife built on their river property 21 years ago. Back then it was mostly forest. Slowly, people started to buy up lots and built big houses. He hasn't got as much privacy as he'd like and his view of the river isn't what it used to be.

He says his property is still a piece of paradise. He's sick that others will have their hard work and dreams washed away.

"I just don't know how they (the provincial government) couldn't see this coming," he says. "This is homes, these are the farmers who grow our vegetables. I'd like to see how they're really going to compensate these people for their losses."

Just five minutes up the road from Shettler you can see piles of sandbags and dikes ringing properties. The water is lapping near the bags.

The morality of sacrificing a relative few for the good of many has been debated since the beginning of time. This province lives in uneasy relationship with its rivers. We've become enamoured with comparisons this spring -- a once-in-300-years flood! Half the water flow of Niagara Falls! One hundred thousand cattle in need of a place to stay! We can't find enough superlatives to describe the agony of waiting.

Floodways and diversions can only do so much. This spring, we have proof they can't do enough.

But the lucky, like the Gagnons and the Menards, are not indifferent to the dice-toss that left them safe and others about to be devastated. When you choose to live on a river, you know there are risks.

No one expected it would be the province that would pull its finger from the dike. No one knew there would have to be a choice to keep some Manitobans safe and others up a creek without the proverbial paddle. It's a damn lousy choice to have to make.

lindor.reynolds@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 13, 2011 A4

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