Raising questions on rapid transit route

Critics blast lack of transparency over need for Parker lands retention pond

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Doubts are being raised about city hall's decision to expropriate 20 acres of land it sold to a developer four years ago.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 23/02/2015 (2837 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Doubts are being raised about city hall’s decision to expropriate 20 acres of land it sold to a developer four years ago.

David Sanders, the administration critic and unsuccessful mayoral candidate, said suspicions have been raised because of the administration’s refusal to make public any of the reports that justify the need for a retention pond and its location in the middle of the Parker lands.

“If the administration is so sure about the need for the retention pond and where it should be located, then I’d like to see those documents,” Sanders said. “If there is one report recommending the retention pond, where is it?”

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Files City council is expected to approve the expropriation of 36 parcels of land for the next phase of the bus rapid-transit corridor and 20 acres for a massive deep-water storm retention pond.

City council is expected to approve a massive expropriation this week of 36 parcels of land needed for the BRT corridor and the Calrossie deep-water storm retention pond — a 20-acre project designed to end the basement flooding that’s affected homes for decades in the nearby Taylor and Earl Grey neighbourhoods during heavy rains.

Most of the land needed for the BRT corridor involves slivers of commercial property along the route, but attention has been focused on the Parker lands, where the storm-retention pond is to be built on private property.

The city traded the 59-acre Parker lands in 2009 to Gem Equities, controlled by local developer Andrew Marquess, for nine acres of the former Fort Rouge Yards. While the city always knew it might need some of that land for the BRT corridor, officials said last week they had no idea they would need to buy back a third of the property for a retention pond.

Sanders said that claim needs to be supported by the release of documents. Sanders said the basement-flooding problem has been known for decades.

Sanders said transit director Dave Wardrop had been a senior official in the water and waste department for several years before switching departments, and he must have been aware of the sewer problems and the potential solutions.

Sanders said a confidential report looking at possible options to deal with the basement-flooding problems was completed only months after the 2009 Parker lands swap was completed, adding city officials must have been aware of at least the potential need for more of the Parker lands for a retention pond.

“There is no plan that we’ve seen and no public discussion,” Sanders said.

An administrative report presented to the property and development committee and the executive policy committee pointed to two studies it said support the need for the retention pond on the Parker lands and clears it of any wrongdoing in the original 2009 land swap with Marquess — but the city refuses to release those studies.

Diane Sacher, the director of water and waste, said a 2010 study never envisioned a giant retention pond in the Parker lands, and the favoured approach was the installation of a series of underground pipes to prevent the basement flooding.

Sacher said a subsequent study in 2012 found the original pipes option wasn’t feasible, and the large retention pond on the Parker lands was identified as the only viable solution.

Sacher’s comments to two committees conflict with details in the administrative report and with comments from Coun. John Orlikow, the area councillor and chairman of the property and development committee.

Nowhere in the administrative report brought to the city last week recommending the expropriations does it say a study had been produced that concluded a retention pond on the Parker lands was the only viable solution.

A map showing the Parker lands area and the proposed retention pond (in light blue). The parcels of land set to be expropriated are marked with a black broken line.

A study in 2010 and another in 2012 said options to solve the basement flooding had been identified but no one option was recommended.

Sanders requested the release of several studies through the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA), involving both the BRT corridor and the storm-retention pond. All requests were refused by the administration on the grounds they are considered advice to government.

The Free Press made a similar request to city hall last week for the 2010 and 2012 studies and for all reports that recommended the construction of a single, large retention pond on the Parker lands. A civic spokeswoman said the request was denied because of the “extensive work it will require to gather the requested documents,” and advised a FIPPA application be submitted for the documents.

Last week’s administrative report on the expropriation said in 2013, the water and waste department asked city staff to approach Marquess to initiate discussions about buying back some of the Parker lands — but there is no reference to a study that supports the Parker site.

Orlikow said he saw the 2010 and 2012 studies that Sanders had been refused.

“The (2010) report that I saw, there was one option,” Orlikow said. “There wasn’t a whole bunch of options that I saw,” Orlikow said.

“In 2012, there was another report that said why (the 2010 option) didn’t work,” Orlikow said, adding it recommended the storm retention pond on the Parker lands.

Orlikow said he is concerned the water and waste department didn’t recognize the faults in the 2010 study, but said he’s satisfied a retention pond wasn’t an option being considered in 2009 when the Parker lands swap was being negotiated.

aldo.santin@freepress.mb.ca

History

Updated on Monday, February 23, 2015 6:49 AM CST: Changes headline, replaces photo

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