Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Province hopes feds invest in flood prevention

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MANITOBA is hoping for bags of money, not sand, from the federal government to help reform the way flood prevention is funded.

This year, a federal election collides with yet another spring deluge, which opens the floodgates on the old issue of Ottawa's spotty interest in flood prevention -- everything from dredging the Red River to building permanent dikes.

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Steve Ashton, Manitoba's infrastructure and transportation minister, who is also in charge of emergency measures, says it makes sense for Ottawa to invest more in prevention since Ottawa usually gets stuck with the cleanup bill. The federal government normally covers the lion's share of disaster financial assistance paid to flooded-out homeowners and municipalities grappling with road and bridge repairs.

"Why wouldn't you put money into mitigation when, in the long run, you're ending up paying the same amount or more back in financial assistance?" said Ashton.

The province has quietly pushed for the creation of a new federal flood-mitigation program, an idea other provincial emergency measures ministers endorsed at a recent meeting in Toronto, said Ashton. Cash could be used to cost-share short-term flood prevention, such as buying more culvert steamers, to long-term projects such as stopping the chronic flooding of Highway 75.

Ashton was quick to give the federal government credit for some big-ticket flood projects.

After long negotiations, Ottawa cost-shared the expansion of the Red River Floodway. And, after the 1997 flood, the feds cost-shared $130 million in flood-mitigation projects in the Red River Valley.

Most recently, Public Safety Minister Vic Toews announced tweaks to the rules governing disaster financial assistance that will allow municipalities to rebuild flooded roads and bridges to a higher standard, pool money for bigger projects and avoid the annual build-and-tear-down cycle.

St. Andrews Reeve Don Forfar said those tweaks will be a big help. But he said he'd love to see more federal funding for flood prevention, especially cash to start dredging the Red River again.

maryagnes.welch@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 5, 2011 A3

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