June 17, 2019

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New questions on city's moves

Concerns over station's safety were suppressed for years

From left, Brad Sacher, Michael Jack and John Lane at a press conference Tuesday on the new fire hall.

BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

From left, Brad Sacher, Michael Jack and John Lane at a press conference Tuesday on the new fire hall.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 25/2/2015 (1573 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The judgment of senior City of Winnipeg officials is once again being questioned following the release Tuesday of a four-year-old traffic study that concluded constructing a fire-paramedic hall inside the Route 90/Portage Avenue cloverleaf violated all industry standards for traffic safety and operations.

The bulk of the Stantec Consulting Ltd. study had been released previously, but city officials had been steadfast in opposing the release of three sections of the report that identified the traffic and safety problems and what could be done to mitigate the concerns.

"Based on industry-accepted design standards, under normal circumstances development of any kind within an interchange would not be recommended," the Stantec study states in one of the sections officials did not want to make public. "Accesses within an interchange create the potential for serious safety concerns and operational problems."

Stantec went on to state if the city was determined to build the station in that location, it offered 11 recommendations "to help mitigate potential safety concerns and operational problems."

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 25/2/2015 (1573 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The judgment of senior City of Winnipeg officials is once again being questioned following the release Tuesday of a four-year-old traffic study that concluded constructing a fire-paramedic hall inside the Route 90/Portage Avenue cloverleaf violated all industry standards for traffic safety and operations.

The bulk of the Stantec Consulting Ltd. study had been released previously, but city officials had been steadfast in opposing the release of three sections of the report that identified the traffic and safety problems and what could be done to mitigate the concerns.

"Based on industry-accepted design standards, under normal circumstances development of any kind within an interchange would not be recommended," the Stantec study states in one of the sections officials did not want to make public. "Accesses within an interchange create the potential for serious safety concerns and operational problems."

Stantec went on to state if the city was determined to build the station in that location, it offered 11 recommendations "to help mitigate potential safety concerns and operational problems."

A trio of senior city officials — fire-paramedic Chief John Lane, public works director Brad Sacher and acting chief administrative officer Michael Jack — defended both the decision to build the fire paramedic station inside the cloverleaf and the initial decision to suppress sections of the report, on the grounds it was advice to government.

Lane said the safety concerns identified by Stantec were addressed in the final design. "All the things that Stantec raised the most concern about were either eliminated or addressed within the final product," Lane said.

The complete report was made available from the city's website Tuesday morning and a news conference was held later.

Colin Craig, the former prairie director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation (CTF) who made the original request for the report, said Stantec's concerns outlined in the suppressed material confirm the suspicions he had about the project.

"The report seems to validate what we were told through a whistleblower — the city's traffic division had serious concerns about building a fire hall in the middle of a cloverleaf," Craig said.

Craig said he believes the administration had suppressed portions of the report because it did not want council and the public to know about the safety concerns.

"Our remaining concern is why this was not presented to council before it went ahead," Craig said, adding council should have been told safety concerns had been identified.

David Sanders, a critic of the civic administration who unsuccessfully ran for mayor, said the Stantec study is embarrassing to city staff and he believes they kept it secret for almost four years for that reason.

"They proposed doing something that wasn't safe," Sanders said, adding Tuesday's news conference was an act of damage control.

Left out of the questioning over safety and why the material was initially withheld and then released was any reference the administration had taken deliberate steps to hide from council the project had gone over budget and failing to get council's approval to start construction.

The two-storey station opened in late 2013. It replaced a previous Station 11 built on Berry Street in 1912.

Along with stations in Sage Creek, Charleswood and south River Heights, the new Station No. 11 was built as part of a multi-year plan to replace crumbling and antiquated fire-paramedic stations that can't accommodate large emergency vehicles, adequately serve a coed workplace or meet modern post-disaster standards.

The first phase of the project was marred by a construction program assailed by an external audit for cost overruns, poor oversight, an abandoned three-for-one land-swap proposal and the awarding of construction contracts on what auditors called a non-competitive basis.

Station No. 11, in particular, was criticized for ballooning in size to 14,000 square feet from 10,500 square feet without clear authorization or council approval. It also increased in cost to $6.5 million from $4.2 million.

The cloverleaf site for the new station had been recommended by developer Shindico, which built all four stations, as a way to minimize costs. It also turned out to be the ideal site for fire and paramedic response times and area coverage.

Not only did the administration refuse to release the report to the CTF, it also declined to provide the suppressed sections of the study to members of council who wanted to see it.

A year ago, Coun. John Orlikow and then-councillor Paula Havixbeck, requested the report be released in its entirety, but they were unable to get council support.

Sacher said Tuesday there was no need to share the study with council because the concerns raised by Stantec had been addressed.

Jack said the decision to finally release the previously suppressed sections reflected an evolution of the administration's position on documents considered to be advice to governments.

He denied Mayor Brian Bowman had told the administration to release the report in its entirety, adding, however, he believes Bowman supports the decision.

"This has been an ongoing evolution in how we respond" to requests made under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA), Jack said. "This evolution... is consistent with Mayor Bowman's pledge to create a more open and accessible government."

During the news conference, Chief Lane had nothing but praise for the Route 90 station. "It is a much more advantageous location, not only from a response-time perspective but also from a public-safety perspective," he said. "We don't have fire trucks and ambulances responding through residential neighbourhoods as they depart the station."

While Stantec said implementing its recommendations could mitigate the safety and traffic concerns, Sacher said he is satisfied those concerns have been eliminated.

"The meaning of mitigating those safety issues (is) you make it safe for operations," Sacher said.

Sacher said his department is continuing to monitor the traffic situation around the fire paramedic station but no issues have emerged. He said the four recommendations not implemented concerned features not incorporated into the final design.

aldo.santin@freepress.mb.ca

Did the city make a rash decision to build the Station 11 fire hall where it did? Join the conversation in the comments below.

Aldo Santin

Aldo Santin
Reporter

Aldo Santin is a veteran newspaper reporter who first carried a pen and notepad in 1978 and joined the Winnipeg Free Press in 1986, where he has covered a variety of beats and specialty areas including education, aboriginal issues, urban and downtown development. Santin has been covering city hall since 2013.

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History

Updated on Wednesday, February 25, 2015 at 6:42 AM CST: Replaces photo, adds question for discussion

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