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Excess floodway money to fund new protections

Brandon Mayor Shari Decter Hirst speaks about flood works in her area.

BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Brandon Mayor Shari Decter Hirst speaks about flood works in her area.

Cash once set aside to expand the Red River Floodway will be spent on flood protection elsewhere in Manitoba.

From left, MP James Bezan, floodway authority CEO Ernie Gilroy, MP Shelly Glover, Premier Greg Selinger and MP Joy Smith cut the ribbon Tuesday on the completed Red River Floodway expansion.

Enlarge Image

From left, MP James Bezan, floodway authority CEO Ernie Gilroy, MP Shelly Glover, Premier Greg Selinger and MP Joy Smith cut the ribbon Tuesday on the completed Red River Floodway expansion. (BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)

Ottawa and Broadway have promised to spend $42 million on flood protection in eight Manitoba communities, with all but $4 million coming from the $665-million Red River Floodway expansion budget.

On Tuesday, Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger and senior Manitoba MP Shelly Glover characterized the floodway expansion as coming in $38 million under budget because the final price tag for the project wound up being $627 million.

The scope of the project, however, was scaled back during the Gary Doer administration due to fear of cost overruns. At the time, plans for several additional bridges over the floodway channel were scrapped due to fears the final cost of the expansion could reach $800 million.

Nonetheless, the availability of $38 million will be used to help fund $27 million worth of flood-mitigation efforts in Brandon and $14.9 million worth of permanent dikes in seven other Manitoba communities -- Melita, Souris, Duck Bay, Waterhen, West St. Paul, East St. Paul and St. Clements.

In recent years, officials and volunteers have grown weary of repeatedly erecting temporary dikes in Melita and Souris along the Souris River, Duck Bay on Lake Winnipegosis, Waterhen on the Waterhen River and West St. Paul, East St. Paul and St. Clements along the Red River.

Canadian Heritage Minister and Saint-Boniface MP Glover said Ottawa wants to "ensure we weren't just putting up temporary structures continually when we knew we had these problems coming year after year" in flood-affected towns and municipalities.

"We all know we have to put in place (permanent) protection for communities, especially with the dramatic increase in weather volatility," Selinger added.

The first community to receive funding is expected to be St. Clements, where a 3.5-kilometre dike will protect a low-lying area near St. Peters, St. Clements Mayor Steve Strang said.

St. Clements will only be on the hook for 10 per cent of the tab, which is expected to wind up in the $1.4-million range.

"There's no way rural municipalities could afford to do this without this program," said Strang.

In Brandon, about $22 million of the $27 million in new funds is already accounted for, Mayor Shari Decter Hirst said. The additional $5 million will be used to build a new lift station to protect low-lying neighbourhoods along the Assiniboine River, she said.

As part of this year's federal budget, Ottawa committed $200 million in additional money for flood mitigation, with a significant portion expected to be spent in Alberta.

Last week, delegates at a provincial disaster-management conference speculated the new federal emphasis on flood mitigation might come at the expense of disaster financial assistance.

Glover allayed fears of disaster-assistance clawbacks. "There is nothing on the table to make any changes," she said, adding Ottawa remains committed to covering 90 per cent of claims made following disasters.

bartley.kives@freepress.mb.ca

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