Right in the centre - Somebody please say no!


By Ken Waddell

Neepawa Banner & Press

The time has come for somebody in authority at the municipal level to just say no!

With the intense levels of overland flooding that took place on or about July 1 this year, municipalities have lost hundreds of road crossings, bridges, low level crossings and culverts. It will take months, perhaps years, to re-build all that has been lost.

Local municipalities need to step back and take a look at what can be fixed, how quickly it can be fixed and at what cost. In many cases, the provincial government, and even some federal government departments, will be insisting on having a say as to how roads, bridges, dams and culverts should be re-built. Everyone from water conservation people to engineers to Fisheries and Oceans will want a say in how important it is to re-build and to what standards.

Now is the time for municipal and town councils to stand up and say “no” when the dictates of engineers and higher levels of government want to throw their weight around by insisting on certain, and often unreasonable, standards.

If people outside of a particular municipal jurisdiction want to impose their re-building standards on the local governments, there is only one way they should be allowed to do that. It’s called show us your money.

There will be people who want to re-build the Park Lake dam and road in Neepawa for example. The bridge alone is reported to be over a million dollars. Fixing the burst berm is a yet-to-be-determined cost. It would be wonderful to re-build the road or, better yet, build a new road that doesn’t cross the river. It would be nice to dredge Park Lake, Minnedosa Lake or the Rapid City Lake. If those kinds of costs are piled onto the already over-burdened local taxpayers, it may well mean that other local needs go unattended.

In the case of Park Lake at Neepawa, it was built around 1898 and was used as a water supply for a small electric turbine to provide electricity. That didn’t prove practical, but the lake became the water supply for a steam electricity plant and a source of water and ice for the town of Neepawa. Yes, harvesting, storing and selling ice was a big thing in the first decades of the 20th century. None of those needs are there anymore, so it begs the question, why re-build it?

Across the whole region, there are dams, roads, bridges and culverts that need attention, be it replacement or improvement. But the problem often is that mandated solutions from higher levels of government come up with highly unrealistic and very expensive engineering specifications. Added to that, God help a municipality that dares install a culvert that might somehow impede a duck swimming upstream or a little fish or frog from re-producing.

The point is that people who want things done in a certain way, to a certain standard and quickly had better bring their chequebooks.

Just to add some levity to the discussion, the story was told to me by a Department of Agriculture worker in south-western Manitoba about a public meeting in the 1960s about building a bridge over a small water way. Seems that the chairman of the meeting was promoting a new bridge. Some in the audience were for it and some against. Finally, in exasperation, a farmer (and taxpayer) stood up and proclaimed, “Mr. Chairman, we don’t need bridge over the little creek, a culvert will do. It’s such a small creek that I could p—s half way across it.” The indignant chairman shouted, “You are out of order, sir.” The taxpayer retorted, “I know I am out of order, if I wasn’t out of order, I could p—s all the way across it.” Not sure if the bridge got built or who paid for it, but the point is that maybe there are some things that can be done cheaper than one first imagines.

Every bit of damage that was wrought by this summer’s flooding needs to be examined, as it all comes down to money. There is the essential, the desirable and the wishful, but it’s doubtful we if can afford all three.

Disclaimer: The writer serves as a volunteer chair of the Manitoba Community Newspaper Association. The views expressed in this column are the writer’s personal views and are not to be taken as being  the view of the MCNA board or Banner & Press staff.