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Flood outlets could be done in three years, Pallister says

THE province could build the needed outlets to lower Lake Manitoba in less than half the time the province says it needs, Opposition Leader Brian Pallister says.

But he offered few details Wednesday on how the two outlets -- one for Lake Manitoba and the other for Lake St. Martin -- could be done in three years, saying he will explain it next week.

"When we put our minds to it as a province to protect ourselves we do it," he said a news conference, his first public comments on this summer's flooding.

He said the Lake St. Martin emergency channel, quickly built in 2011, and the Brunkild "Z" dike, built during the 1997 Red River flood, are examples of how fast the province can move.

"The fact is we showed that we could solve a problem and prevent damage quickly and expeditiously, and I think we can do that again," he said.

"The urgency is so clear that this should be treated as an emergency situation."

The province said it believes it needs about seven years to build the two permanent outlets. It says that amount of time includes design and engineering, public and First Nations consultations, regulatory approvals, land assembly and construction. The estimated cost is about $300 million.

Infrastructure and Transportation Minister Steve Ashton said the clock started ticking on that seven years in early 2013 with the release of two independent reviews, one which examined water levels on Lake Manitoba and Lake St. Martin and the other the province's handling of the 2011 flood.

The province has also said it has six options for a new outlet for Lake Manitoba and two for neighbouring Lake St. Martin.

Victims of flooding in 2011 and this summer say the province has been too slow to build the new outlet for Lake Manitoba, and blame high flows on the Portage Diversion for flooding the lake again.

Ashton said a new Lake Manitoba outlet won't open until the Lake St. Martin channel to Lake Winnipeg is operational.

Pallister also defended himself against criticism this week of his low profile during the height of this summer's flooding on the Assiniboine River.

He said over the past month he's visited areas in the Assiniboine River basin multiple times in the past month. He is to tour the Shellmouth Dam near Russell today.

"Perhaps I've been rightly criticized for not making more of deal out of having done that, but I don't think people are interested so much in photo opportunities as they are in flood prevention, and that's what I'm focused on," he said.

bruce.owen@freepress.mb.ca

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