Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Build up washed-out roads: isolated Morris residents

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Morris residents want the province to build up roads washed out by the Red River so families aren't cut off from school, work and travel during another major flood.Provincial flood experts expect Highway 75 will remain underwater until mid-May, cutting off travel to and from the U.S. border and a major access road for communities like Morris.

Morris councillor and emergency co-ordinator Gavin Van der Linde said the slow decline of the Red has left many residents of Morris and surrounding areas isolated from work, school and families. The ring dike that surrounds Morris has protected homes and community centres, but left only one access road out of town -- Highway 23 East.

Van der Linde said many residents have taken time off work since it takes so long to detour to other communities or boat to and from existing access roads. Van der Linde said it takes more than an hour to drive 13 kilometres south of Morris, and some nurses who work in the community are staying in the local motel until the river recedes.

Van der Linde says building up Highway 75 and Highway 23 West would ensure trade and travel routes remain open, and the economic lifeblood of the town isn't put on hold for six weeks.

"It does significantly impact people," he said, noting two young people are staying in his home so they can get to school.

Manitoba Water Stewardship spokesman Steve Topping acknowledged the extended high river levels are a hardship for many southern Manitoba residents. Once the water recedes in mid-May, Topping said, crews will have to assess the highway's safety and likely repair the shoulders.

Provincial crews are already starting repairs on over 50 roads washed out by surging flood water in the Interlake.

He said the long flood is an inconvenience for everyone who uses roads that are impassable due to the Red River.

"It is a hardship for people in the Red River Valley. It's an inconvenience -- many people have to boat to their homes and their cars, many people chose to evacuate," Topping said Sunday.

Although the flood water has dropped to 1979 levels near Morris, Van der Linde said it will take weeks before the community sees some relief. While residents are happy the ring dikes built after 1997 have protected people and their homes from the danger and damage of flood water, he said many area families and businesses have lost income due to the loss of Highway 75.

Prime Minister Steven Harper recently announced $212 million in federal-provincial funding to build an artery that's vital to creating an inland port in Winnipeg.

Van der Linde said border officials told him traffic is down 30 per cent from this time last year. He said it doesn't make sense to develop an inland port if the major truck route from Winnipeg to the U.S. is cut off for weeks every time Manitoba sees a significant flood.

jen.skerritt@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 27, 2009 A5

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