Of all the responsibilities shouldered by any sitting government, be it municipal or otherwise, the safety of its citizens must be of paramount importance.
Yet considering the fact that nearly two years after Brandon was threatened with a one-in-300-year flood event, city officials have yet to complete dike improvements along the Assiniboine River, we are forced to question this administration’s priorities.
On Wednesday, Manitoba Emergency Measures Minister Steve Ashton said the flood risk for the province, though higher than last year, remains a far cry from the 2011 levels. Minor to moderate flooding is likely along the Red, Souris Pembina and Assiniboine rivers, as well as in the Interlake region.
Ashton said there has been significant precipitation in North Dakota, Saskatchewan and Manitoba this winter and if another few major snowstorms move through, the situation could easily change.
"A lot of this will depend on the weather over the next period of time. The most significant month that we always look for in terms of moisture content, whether its the snow or rain ... is actually in March going into April," Ashton said.
So although the outlook thus far seems to show Brandon won’t suffer a repeat of the 2011 "high water event" this spring, our city is not quite out of the woods just yet. We also note that the amount of water that will pour out of over-drained Saskatchewan this spring is impossible to accurately predict.
Nevertheless, Wednesday’s provincial flood outlook came as a large relief to city officials. Since the historic flood of 2011, the City of Brandon has been planning for three permanent dike systems, along 18th Street, First Street and the Assiniboine River corridor.
The city has also worked to reinforce the river’s dogleg near Dinsdale Park and conducted improvements to the Hilton Lift station. But the dike system remains incomplete, even as we face the second spring thaw after the 2011 watershed.
While it appears unlikely we will face another big flood this year, there is simply no way the city could have made such a prediction without taking a highly calculated risk. And in our opinion, such a risk was actually unnecessary.
In August last year, the Sun reported that the City of Brandon had taken over the estimated $20-million dike construction project from Manitoba Infrastructure and Transportation. The province had presented a plan to the city council last April that mapped out where the department said the new dikes should go.
At the time, Ted Snure, the city’s general manager of development services suggested that with the city in control of the project, it could decide what priorities should get done first.
Snure suggested that the Kirkcaldy Drive question needed to be resolved first to prevent the dike from forming an unintended drainage pond. As well, the city was consulting with the federal Agriculture Research station west of 18th Street on the alignment of the dike, and was also considering how to deal with the Optimist Park soccer facility and Dinsdale Park.
All of these considerations pushed back the completion of the project, even though the province wanted to get the dike construction done as soon as possible.
On this page last year, we questioned why the city and the province didn’t find a way to work together to mitigate any local concerns. To date, the province has still never offered us an explanation for the handover.
And in the meantime, city resources have been monopolized for other projects that either could have been put off for another year or dropped altogether. In the past two years, the city has been spending an awful lot of time on an affordable housing strategy, branding and logos for the city, the Black Farm development, the Brandon and Fringe Area Growth Strategy, the North Brandon Gateway Secondary Plan, the Southwest Brandon Secondary Plan, not to mention the creation of a secondary plan for Brandon’s downtown.
On top of all that, city employees have been chasing a few of Mayor Shari Decter Hirst’s pet projects, including the city’s failed bid to host the 2017 Canada Summer Games — one that was doomed to fail the moment that expanding the Sportsplex was off the table.
We’re not suggesting that most of these projects aren’t worthwhile, but our civic leaders seem more preoccupied with putting their mark on the future growth of the city than fixing its most pressing problems. Had the flood situation this spring been different, the city would have been caught completely unprepared.
And that is simply unacceptable.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition March 1, 2013