We have a lot of sympathy for the continuing saga of a few vehicle owners in Winnipeg who are getting the cold shoulder from that city and from Manitoba Public Insurance.
After a nasty water main break during the deep freeze, water sloshed into an apartment building parking lot, where it froze.
It was a lot of water and that makes a lot of ice. Some vehicles are stuck up to their axles in nearly a foot of solid ice. They are impossible to move.
Residents were reduced to chipping away at the ice with a few friends or carting out pots and pans of boiling water to pour on it, bucket-brigade style (this was after their own water got turned back on, which took a couple of days).
The apartment building’s management company eventually brought in an excavator to try to dig the ice out, but it was slow going. Today, they plan to bring in a steam truck, after which the vehicles should be able to get towed out. That’s nearly a week after the water main burst.
MPI initially said that owners were on their own to free their vehicles, although they were welcome to file a claim later. Luckily, common sense quickly prevailed, and late last week, MPI began to co-ordinate with the building’s management company to get the vehicles free.
It seemed obvious at the start — to us, at least — that an organized response to this mess would probably save everyone time, money and effort in the long run. The insurer would naturally have to play a leading role.
Of course, MPI was still telling vehicle owners to make sure the paperwork is in over the weekend or their vehicle might not be freed today.
No help at all through this was the City of Winnipeg. The city fixed the water main, but washed its hands of any responsibility for the mess it caused. In a statement, the city disclaimed all responsibility for damage from water main breaks unless someone could prove negligence on the part of the city or one of its employees.
That makes us laugh. Well, chuckle cynically.
Surely someone will soon enough put two and two together to realize that maintenance of essential civic infrastructure like water mains is a core responsibility of any city government, and that aging infrastructure is failing because it has been neglected.
That’s, well, negligence. By definition.
Plenty of jurisdictions face what they’ve taken to calling an “infrastructure deficit” — Brandon included.
Ours has been estimated at $165 million, but that was nearly four years ago; doubtless it has grown since then.
Some of that, of course, are aging water mains. We recall that a large number of city water service pipes are still made of lead (be nice to hear from the city what its testing on that issue turned up). And there has been no shortage of water main breaks in this city as well, including one stretch of 22nd Street behind Shoppers Mall where it seems to be an annual occurrence.
At a certain point, failure to fix known problems crosses the line from delay and frugality into negligence.
If that’s the legal standard for municipalities to take responsibility for their crumbling infrastructure, we suggest that it is starting to get dangerously close.
Brandon City Council is scheduled to debate the city’s 2014 budget at the end of this week. We have not been shy about suggesting ways to cut costs and to hold the line on expenses.
No doubt, councillors will be focused on some of the minutiae in each line item, as they try to prune back a proposed 2.85 per cent tax hike.
But councillors should also be aware of some of the big-picture numbers.
Like $165 million. And climbing.