A provincial cabinet minister questioned whether Opposition Leader Brian Pallister knows what it takes to build a major infrastructure project after the Tory boss repeated assertions two large lake drains could be built in three years.
Infrastructure and Transportation Minister Steve Ashton maintained Tuesday the province is moving full speed ahead with a new permanent outlet for Lake Manitoba and making an emergency outlet for Lake St. Martin permanent. The estimated price tag for the combined project is $300 million.
'This project cannot be allowed to sit for seven years while we give in to red tape'
Pallister and Conservative MLA Shannon Martin accused the government Tuesday of failing to make the outlets a sufficient priority and using the federal environmental approval process as an excuse for not moving more quickly. The province has estimated the outlets will be completed by 2020.
"We believe that this project can be completed in three years, not seven, three," Pallister told reporters Tuesday. "This project cannot be allowed to sit for seven years while we give in to red tape."
While the province has said the work will be done in seven years, it is back-dating the timeline to 2013, when it first committed to the outlets.
Pallister promised a week ago that he would show how the job could be done in half the time the government says it will need. On Tuesday, he offered some suggestions, but no comprehensive proposal.
He said the province should set a two-month deadline for determining the location of the Lake Manitoba outlet, meet expeditiously with Ottawa to review cost-sharing arrangements and ensure regulatory compliance and consultation processes are "fair to all concerned."
The provincial Tories say they've been assured by their federal counterparts that environmental approvals for the outlets could be done in as little as 30 to 90 days. They said any unnecessary delays in implementing a permanent drainage solution for both large lakes risks huge future compensation bills -- not to mention ongoing hardship for flood victims.
Ashton, meanwhile, said it appears Pallister "doesn't realize what's involved" in such large infrastructure projects. He invited the Opposition leader to meet with government engineers and other experts for a briefing.
"This is a project that will permanently change the flows in terms of Lake Manitoba and Lake St. Martin. It's a complex project," the minister said.
Ashton said the province is already working with several federal departments on the initiative and has done considerable initial preliminary design work. There are numerous technical and cost issues to be worked out and environmental assessments to be completed. Affected First Nations must be consulted.
Both outlets will be equipped with control structures, and the structures will need to be accessible by road, Ashton said.
He said it's conceivable making the emergency Lake St. Martin outlet (to Lake Winnipeg) a permanent controlled structure could be accomplished sometime before 2020 and that some construction could begin as early as 2016.
The provincial Conservatives, meanwhile, urged Premier Greg Selinger Tuesday to meet with Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall to discuss a moratorium on agricultural drainage in the Qu'Appelle River and Assiniboine River watersheds. Ashton said Manitoba has raised the issue of illegal drainage in Saskatchewan with the Wall government and will do so again if it does not take action to combat the problem.