CHARLES TWEED / BRANDON SUN
RM of Edward Reeve Ralph Wang and Councillors Debbie McMechan and Carey Murray stand in front of infrastructure that was devastated by the floods from summer rains.
NEAR PIERSON — Over bumpy roads and past flooded crops, RM of Edward officials stand in front of a washed-out bridge calling on the province to take immediate action.
A section of road that was completely wiped out by summer flooding in the RM of Edward. The road services oil batteries and agricultural land. It's pivotal to the RM's economy, according to municipal leaders. (CHARLES TWEED / BRANDON SUN)
In what has become one of the busiest corners of the province, with a booming oil industry and healthy agricultural sector, "Road Closed" signs are beginning to threaten livelihoods.
Coun. Debbie McMechan believes the water that came this summer, like it did in 2011 — wiping out bridges, roads and culverts — is a direct result of a lack of foresight from provincial leaders.
"No one in government is willing to recognize that this is happening to us because of inadequate policymaking," McMechan said. "This is a lack of Manitoba government leadership."
McMechan said since 2005, the RM of Edward council has been urging the Manitoba government to sit down with its Saskatchewan counterparts and come to a consensus on agricultural drainage.
It fell on deaf ears, she said.
Now, farmers, who only seeded about 15 per cent of their acres due to overland flooding, and the oil industry, which can’t get steady access to leases and batteries, are suffering.
"The oil industry has been slowed to a trickle," she said. "That oil feeds provincial coffers."
Some producers will be forced to drive more than 30 kilometres to harvest crops that are just a stone’s throw away, but aren’t reachable due to washed-out bridges.
The Manitoba Road Report for the area looks more like an old bingo card, with marks and dots everywhere. Each one symbolizing a closed road or bridge with weight restrictions.
The report doesn’t mark infrastructure that is out.
There are 140 sites in the RM alone that need work, be it bridge, culvert or road repair from the flood.
Coun. Carey Murray isn’t sure how some kids will get to school next week as major bus routes still aren’t passable.
He said it isn’t a coincidence that the RMs that have been hurt the most by the flooding are near the Saskatchewan border.
"The further you get away from the border the less damage there is."
To the west, an entire town was cut off from drinking water and hundreds were evacuated due to a June storm.
Murray said elderly residents had to be pulled from the personal care lodge, something he hopes never happens closer to home.
"Gainsborough (Sask.) has been devastated by the rains and there are a lot of people that are mad about drainage there too," he said. "It’s going to change that town forever."
A recent study of the Smith Creek Research Basin by the Center for Hydrology at the University of Saskatchewan found that wetland drainage "has a strong impact on streamflow in flood conditions."
Over six years of computer and model simulation from 2007-13, the study said total streamflow volumes in the area increased by 55 per cent.
That extra water is pushed further and further downstream until it leads to overland flooding in many cases.
Murray, McMechan and Reeve Ralph Wang believe the RM is the casualty of drainage to the west.
Herb Mahood, director of regional operations with Manitoba Infrastructure and Transportation, said 80 per cent of the damage is contained to an area with the Saskatchewan border to the west, the United States border to the south, Trans Canada Border to the north and the RM of Winchester to the east.
"There is $80 million worth of damage for two weeks of rain that happened in late June and early July," Mahood said. "For bridges and structures, which is culverts over six feet in diametre, there is $70 million worth of damage. And another $10 million in highway damage."
That doesn’t include municipal damage.
"Suffice to say the entire infrastructure was destroyed."
Mahood couldn’t put a timeline on repairs, but expects it to take several years.
Temporary repairs have been done to get at least one lane open in most areas, he said.
Mahood has met with agricultural, oil, trucking and municipal stakeholders in the area. Those consultations formed a priority list for work to get done to lessen the impact.
He said he hears from people on an hourly basis about concerns for the infrastructure and how it might affect the local economy.
"We’re still in panic mode trying to deal with everything," Mahood said. "It’s been devastating and we’re asking everyone to be patient. It’s going to take a while until things are back to normal. And please obey the weight limits because if a heavy truck goes through and breaks the bridge that’s been temporarily repaired, then that repair becomes a replacement and it’s going to take a heck of a lot longer time to get fixed."
» Twitter: @CharlesTweed
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition August 29, 2014