Manitoba to support victims of man-made flood: premier
Published Sunday, May 15, 2011 8:55PM EDT
Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger is adamant that homeowners and farmers who face hardships as a result of forced flooding will be looked after by the province.
The Manitoba government recently made the controversial decision to intentionally drain water from the swollen Assiniboine River, in order to protect hundreds of homes that could be at risk if uncontrolled flooding were to occur.
On Saturday, a section of dike was cut open near Portage la Prairie, with the water slowly pouring onto nearby farmland. The water is expected to travel to the La Salle River over the next week or so.
While the controlled flooding is going according to plan so far, provincial officials are well aware that dozens of homes could be affected by the water that is making its way across the region.
More than 24 hours after the controlled breach, the water has spread only 3.2 kilometres to the south and 1.6 kilometres to the east.
About 150 people in the region have been evacuated, but no homes have actually been flooded yet.
"It's like in a scary movie when they play that suspension (music) and you know something's coming but you don't know what it is," Shea Doherty told The Canadian Press from his family's farm near the Hoop and Holler bend, where the controlled breach took place.
"It's like you started to see faint blue along the trees a mile and a half away, and then you started seeing it get larger and larger, and it's like, `it's coming'."
Doherty said the water should make it to his property by Monday morning, but no one has given him an official estimate.
On Sunday, Selinger said the province believes the intentional flooding is a necessary step to prevent widespread problems resulting from the worst seasonal flooding on record in Manitoba.
"This was entirely intended as a harm reduction measure to protect these very people and their neighbours and property all around them," Selinger told CTV's Question Period from Winnipeg.
"It was an objective of protecting rural Manitoba."
Selinger said the province has spent $70 million to date on flood mitigation measures, a figure that could rise to as much as $200 million by the time the flood season is over.
"Right now the focus is on protecting people and property, protecting families and their homes," Selinger said.
"That's the key: the more we do on that end, the less the bill will be on the other end."
But Selinger said the government is well aware of the sacrifices that the people living in the path of the river water are making and they will be compensated appropriately.
Through a special compensation program, Selinger said the province is "going to be there to support them every step of the way by preventing as much damage as possible and then compensating them over and above the normal guidelines."
In reaching a decision on compensation, provincial officials will be aware that they could face possible lawsuits from Manitobans living in the area where the man-made flood will wash through.
Lawyer Danny Kreklewich said the law is clear that the government is at fault for any damage to the homes and farms of people living in the area affected by the controlled release of floodwater.
"I think they know that and I think they're going to come to the table and make things right," Kreklewich told CTV News Channel on Sunday afternoon.
Some residents of the affected area said the government was left with little choice but to go ahead with the controlled flooding.
"If something wasn't done, there was going to be a blow-out somewhere (along the dike). It had to be done," John Caister, of Portage la Prairie, told CTV News Channel.
But he said the mood of the people living in the area is conflicted.
"Nobody knows if we are doing the right thing."
Military helps in fight against flood
Manitoba is also taking advantage of the more than 1,600 soldiers that have been deployed to Portage la Prairie area by the Canadian Forces.
Defence Minister Peter MacKay told CTV's Question Period that the number of soldiers in Manitoba will "ebb and flow in conjunction with the water."
MacKay said the soldiers have helped bolster existing dikes with sandbags and helping protect local farms that were immediately affected by the controlled flooding on Saturday.
"This has been a huge challenge for everyone, the farmers themselves most notably," said MacKay, speaking to CTV's Question Period from New Glasgow, N.S.
"But the Canadian Forces have done really incredible work, working around the clock and responding very quickly when the waters began to rise."
Farmer Doug Connery is among the Portage la Prairie residents waiting to see what will happen as the water makes its way to the La Salle River.
"At this point and time, we still might be lucky. It all depends," Connery told CTV News Channel by telephone from Portage la Prairie on Sunday morning.
Connery believes that at least 10 per cent of his vegetable farm will be flooded, no matter what happens in the coming hours and days. But if the flow rate increases, a much larger section of his farmland will be under water.
With files from The Canadian Press and a report from CTV's Jill Macyshon