The Manitoba government is asking private companies whether they would be interested in leasing or buying provincially-owned ice-breaking equipment used to prevent flooding on the Red River.
Infrastructure Minister Ron Schuler confirmed the province last month issued a request for interest regarding its three Amphibex ice-breaking machines — valued around $1.5 million apiece, according to the NDP, who raised the issue in question period Monday.
A private company, North Red Waterway Maintenance Corp., currently operates the province's Amphibex machines, usually starting in late January or early February annually.
Schuler said the government's current ice jam mitigation contract is around 15 years old, and, though officials aren't dissatisfied with the $1-million annual deal, they want to see whether a better option is available.
"We’re willing to listen to any great ideas. It’s not prescriptive. That’s why we didn’t do an RFP (request for proposal), we didn’t ask for proposals," the minister said, noting there's no deadline for when a new ice jam mitigation contract or set-up would take shape, which could happen as early as next year.
Schuler was adamant any new contract must guarantee the province has access to the Amphibexes whenever they're required.
NDP infrastructure critic Matt Wiebe underscored springtime in Manitoba can be unpredictable and the machines should always be at the ready.
"Ultimately, people want to make sure that they are publicly-owned, that they are available when they need to be available," he said.
"And this (request), I think shows that the government is looking at privatizing just another piece of our important infrastructure when it comes to flooding and other emergency measures."
The deadline for submissions to the province is Wednesday.
Jessica Botelho-Urbanski covers the Manitoba Legislature for the Winnipeg Free Press.