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Manitoba Tories want government to fast-track flood projects

WINNIPEG - Manitoba Opposition Leader Brian Pallister is accusing the NDP government of dragging its feet on flood-prevention projects, but the government says Pallister seems unaware that preliminary work is well underway.

Pallister says a new outlet to drain water from Lake Manitoba, proposed after severe flooding in 2011, should be competed within three years because federal rules governing such projects have been eased. The province has said seven years is a more realistic time frame.

"Federal (environmental) regulations have been improved tremendously over the last while ... and we need to work effectively with our federal partners," Pallister said Tuesday.

"We have people ... all across this province who are facing the consequences of our lack of focus on this issue."

Pallister also called on Premier Greg Selinger to hold an emergency meeting with Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall to discuss farmland drainage in the Assiniboine River valley. Drainage in the upstream portion of the river in Saskatchewan has been cited as a major factor in this summer's flooding in southwestern Manitoba.

Emergency Measures Minister Steve Ashton said he and other cabinet ministers have already been discussing the matter with their counterparts in Saskatchewan. He pointed out the Saskatchewan government is considering new legislation to limit new drainage.

Ashton also said the government is making progress in its plan to build an outlet on Lake Manitoba, where high water levels this year and in 2011 have caused shoreline damage to cottage properties and roads.

The province has been looking at six possible sites for the outlet, the main component of a $300-million plan to reduce flooding in the area, and is set to narrow down the list of possibilities by early September.

"We've narrowed it down to the feasible options and ... we want to hear from people around the lake," Ashton said.

"We're in a position now of going public with a specific finding of the engineering work that's been done."

First Nations in the area still need to be consulted, Ashton said, and the government has to set aside funding and see how much the federal government might kick in.

Tory conservation critic Shannon Martin said the project should have been further along by now.

"The need to increase outflow from Lake Manitoba is well-documented, yet here we are three years after the last major flood event."

Damage from flooding this year, mainly to farmland and roads, is estimated at $200 million. The flood of 2011 cost more than $1.2 billion, although much of the money is recouped from the federal government through disaster aid programs.

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