BRUCE BUMSTEAD/BRANDON SUN
City crews, along with firefighters with Manitoba Conservation, work at topping up the the southern dike with aqua dams during Brandon's 2011 spring flood.
A $99.2-million pledge by the federal government for national permanent flood mitigation projects may be intended for one year, but Premier Greg Selinger hopes the program will be extended.
"Under (the existing program), there is no money for mitigation work," Selinger told the Sun yesterday. "It’s only after the event has occurred that you can get recovery and it depends on the damage done."
The program announced by federal Public Safety Minister Vic Toews Tuesday in Winnipeg will provide 50 per cent funding for provincial investments in dikes and other flood mitigation projects built for the flood of 2011. It covers costs that aren’t otherwise eligible under the disaster financial assistance arrangements program, such as flood mapping, risk assessments and land-use planning controls.
Selinger said the provincial government spent $120 million in flood mitigation projects, such as dike construction in Brandon and along the Assiniboine River.
"Those were 100 per cent provincial dollars," Selinger said.
"I discussed it with the prime minister last May and he agreed we’d put flood mitigation projects in place that would prevent serious damage where they are on the hook 90 (per cent to) 10. He agreed he’d come in for 50-50 with me on this and applied it to other provinces across the country."
While the provincial government’s response has been lauded by some City of Brandon officials, others, like Dauphin-Swan River-Marquette Conservative MP Bob Sopuck said the Selinger government failed rural residents in their time of need.
"In a word, terrible," Sopuck said of the provincial response. "When I look at what happened downstream from the Shellmouth Reservoir, there seemed to be little to no consideration for the producers there. The provincial government has been very indifferent to the plight of the producers there and have not been forthcoming with any assistance I can see, apart from very minor financial assistance that does nothing to really compensate producers for what they have suffered."
Sopuck, whose riding covers large tracts of Lake Manitoba shoreline, was equally critical of the provincial response to continued flooding problems there.
"I’m not all happy with the provincial response to help either the producers and communities around Lake Manitoba or below the Shellmouth Dam," Sopuck said. "Those people sacrificed for the rest of Manitoba and they have not been compensated properly."
Brandon-Souris Conservative MP Merv Tweed added Oak Lake-area residents also battle lasting effects from the 2011 flood and can make use of the new federal program.
"The land has been flooded there and the water never got away this year," Tweed said. "It looks like nothing has been done there. Definitely, there’s a need to protect that farmland."
Tweed said the provincial plans for flood mitigation have their place, but at present, the city of Brandon has flood protection needs still unmet.
"The City of Brandon is really not protected next year based on the plan to spend $20 million," Tweed said.
"I am certainly encouraging the government to move quickly on this. Again, you get to that Oak Lake area and people there are under water. They are looking for solutions and they are looking for some help. I’d hope the premier wouldn’t ignore their needs with all of the money being put forward."
Selinger said he can apply whatever Manitoba receives through the federal program to mitigation projects the province had already done or plan to do. In Brandon, that could mean a proposed provincial $20-million investment for dike construction and improvements could now be split with the federal government.
"Because the DFA program didn’t cover preventative work, we did it with 100 per cent provincial dollars without the knowledge or certainty that we’d recover any of that," Selinger said.
"That’s different from sitting back and waiting for something to happen and getting 90 per cent recovery."
Tweed said it made sense to build the infrastructure needed to fight future floods as it is cheaper than paying to repair the damage high water causes to land and property.
"It makes sense to spend good money on protecting the area into the future, not just repairing it to what it was," Tweed said.
"Otherwise when the floods come, you are just saying, come again and we’ll spend the money again. I think that’s the common sense I’m not seeing. There’s bridges being washed out over and over and over again and they spend money to bring it back to what it was rather than spending a little more to brace it for future floods. It’s just good money if you can save the taxpayer a future cost if you can do it right the first time."
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition August 15, 2012