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This article was published 6/1/2021 (208 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Could a few new precautions lead the city to deem some retention ponds safe enough to skate on?
Despite multiple official warnings for Winnipeggers to keep off those frozen surfaces this winter, many residents have created temporary rinks on them.
Coun. Janice Lukes (Waverley West) said the clear demand for the recreation option means the city should investigate if measuring ice thickness at some of the ponds could ensure they’re safe enough to skate and play hockey on.
In a motion, Lukes is calling for Winnipeg to review how other municipalities handle the matter and would like to see if the city can routinely monitor ice thickness at just a few ponds to allow public access.
"I think it is possible that if the city selected three or four ponds then (it could) monitor the ice on them. Other cities do it, why can’t we?"
The councillor noted Saskatoon permits skating on some of its retention ponds. The Saskatchewan city’s website notes winter sports are allowed on designated ponds once the ice is at least 20 centimetres thick.
Lukes said she’s personally apprehensive about skating on retention ponds, especially the risk a person could fall through the ice, but demand from area residents convinced her to explore if it can be done safely.
Waverley West has 44 retention ponds but only two outdoor pleasure rinks.
"If there’s a way to monitor and do it (safely), I think it could be probably a… cost-effective method for the city to provide recreational activities," said Lukes.
Winnipeggers shared mixed views on the topic Wednesday.
Nick Fox said he believes skating on the ponds has been a popular pastime for Winnipeggers for years, so he was surprised to hear the city warn against it repeatedly this winter.
"I think (people) should be allowed to skate on retention ponds… There’s more current in the river (where people also skate)," said Fox.
Wendy Probost said she worries skating on retention ponds could prove dangerous, especially to young children.
"There’s so many retention ponds in highly dense neighbourhoods so there would be a lot of young people, so that would concern me. (We need to make sure) the little ones are OK," said Probost, who believes measuring ice thickness may address that issue.
Council’s water and waste committee is set to vote on Lukes’ motion on Jan. 12.
Committee chairman Coun. Brian Mayes said he’s open to studying the idea, but stressed any final decision must put safety first.
"No one wants to kill the fun, but you’ve got to make sure it’s safe. It’s not just, ‘Let’s skate and buyer beware.’ We’ve got to make sure this is feasible," said Mayes (St. Vital).
In an emailed statement, the city again warned Winnipeggers to stay away from frozen ponds.
"Retention ponds are never safe to use for winter recreation activities, as ice conditions can change quickly without warning," wrote spokesman Adam Campbell.
Snowmelt or water main breaks can drain into retention ponds and is often mixed with street salts, which can cause ice to melt and thin unevenly, the city said.
"This water enters retention ponds from underneath the ice, resulting in thinning of ice that can’t be seen from the surface."
Civic staff have have not handed out any tickets this winter for using the ponds, Campbell noted.
Born and raised in Winnipeg, Joyanne loves to tell the stories of this city, especially when politics is involved. Joyanne became the city hall reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press in early 2020.