ST. LAURENT — The federal and Manitoba governments have set the wheels in motion on a massive two-part infrastructure project to reduce flooding of communities surrounding Lake Manitoba and Lake St. Martin.

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ST. LAURENT — The federal and Manitoba governments have set the wheels in motion on a massive two-part infrastructure project to reduce flooding of communities surrounding Lake Manitoba and Lake St. Martin.

Construction of two 23-kilometre-long outlet channels to control water levels on each of the two lakes could begin as soon as the fall of 2019.

At a news conference to formally announce the project, Premier Brian Pallister and Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr said Monday the total budgeted cost would be $540 million, with Ottawa shelling out $247.5 million and the province contributing $292.5 million.

Premier Brian Pallister and Jim Carr, Federal Minister of Natural Resources Canada, announced a $540 million infrastructure project for flood management of the Lake Manitoba and Lake St. Martin outlet channels at an event at Parc Gros Arbre, off Allard Road close to St. Laurent.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Premier Brian Pallister and Jim Carr, Federal Minister of Natural Resources Canada, announced a $540 million infrastructure project for flood management of the Lake Manitoba and Lake St. Martin outlet channels at an event at Parc Gros Arbre, off Allard Road close to St. Laurent.

"There are no impediments foreseen for this," said Carr. "The funding is in place. We believe it will proceed quickly, as it should."

Pallister said the announcement is a recognition of decades of hardships "that have been imposed on the people of this basin."

"For the entire history of our province, this is a region that's been vulnerable to flooding," he said, standing on Lake Manitoba's southeast shore, which has been battered by flooding in recent years. "Far too many times communities have been devastated."

Environmental approvals and consultations with Indigenous groups are expected to continue until next spring. In the interim, construction of an access road to the Lake St. Martin construction area is underway.

GOVERNMENT OF MANITOBA

GOVERNMENT OF MANITOBA

In 2011, a devastating flood displaced whole communities, swamped farmland, ruined cottages and businesses and cost governments hundreds of millions of dollars in compensation payments. The flooding sparked a renewed commitment to build outlet channels for the two lakes.

Decades earlier, in 1970, the Portage Diversion, opened to protect Winnipeg and other communities on the Lower Assiniboine River, channelling water into Lake Manitoba during flood years.

The Fairford and Dauphin rivers connect Lake Manitoba and Lake St. Martin with Lake Winnipeg. The two new outlets will run separately from those rivers. The new Lake Manitoba outlet channel will handle 7,500 cubic feet of water per second, while the Lake St. Martin outlet project will nearly triple the capacity of an emergency channel constructed in 2011 to 11,500 cfs.

The Lake Manitoba outlet channel will run north from Watchorn Bay to Birch Bay on Lake St. Martin. The Lake St. Martin outlet will run northeast from Lake St. Martin to Lake Winnipeg, south of Willow Point.

MP Jim Carr: 'The funding is in place. We believe it will proceed quickly, as it should.'

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

MP Jim Carr: 'The funding is in place. We believe it will proceed quickly, as it should.'

A number of Interlake landowners who will be directly impacted by the Lake Manitoba construction project claim the province could have chosen a shorter route that would have affected fewer farmers. They also say they've been largely left in the dark in the lead-up to Monday's announcement. They say details of compensation packages for the land they will lose have yet to be worked out.

Brad Dreger, who farms a half mile west of Grahamdale, said he hasn't heard from any government officials since taking his concerns directly to the premier at a meeting in April.

"They have not contacted me once. And it's getting pretty frustrating because we'd like to know what's happening," he said Monday. "We seem to be the last ones to know, and we're losing our land.

Dreger, who produces grain, alfalfa seed and leafcutter bees, said the proposed channel will cut through six quarter-sections of his land, necessitating lengthy detours to reach what are now parts of the same field. An area highway -- No. 239 -- will also be relocated to within 30 metres of his house.

Dreger said Pallister told him in April that the government needed to complete consultations with Indigenous communities before it dealt with other landowners. He said he doesn't understand why the government can't talk to both groups simultaneously.

Noting the impact of the lake channel construction on some landowners Monday, Pallister promised "a respectful process."

"I think it's important we satisfy those needs for information. But I also think it's important we understand that the people in this basin have made tremendous sacrifices over a long period of time to keep safe the people of Winnipeg and others throughout the province, and they deserve to get their lives back."

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

Larry Kusch

Larry Kusch
Legislature reporter

Larry Kusch didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life until he attended a high school newspaper editor’s workshop in Regina in the summer of 1969 and listened to a university student speak glowingly about the journalism program at Carleton University in Ottawa.

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