Provincial Infrastructure issues - Lake Manitoba, Lake St Martin to Lake Winnipeg channels, delays in return of residents of Paugassi and Little Grand Rapids and dam repairs near Neepawa and Rapid City
I had a chance to ask questions to the Minister of Infrastructure in Estimates on Friday October 9. I asked questions about several infrastructure projects including: 1) The channels from Lake Manitoba, to Lake St. Martin and from Lake St. Martin to Lake Winnipeg, 2) The delays in residents from Paungassi and Little Grand Rapids in getting home after fires this summer, 3) repairs to dams near Neepawa and Rapid City. My questions and Minister Schuler's comments are below:
Hon. Jon Gerrard (River Heights): Minister Schuler, what is the timeline for completion of the Lake Manitoba outlet to Lake St. Martin, and the Lake St. Martin then connection to Lake Winnipeg?
Mr. Gerrard, great to hear from you. Great to hear your voice. Miss you at events, you and your beautiful wife Naomi, and with just so much in common with her love for art, my love for art.
If you want, Mr. Gerrard, you can go onto our public disclosure site, Manitoba Infrastructure, and we have a lots of newsletters. We do a newsletter regularly now, that goes out to the communities. You might want to avail yourself.
If we started the project today, it would take four years. I would point out to you that there was a federal election that there's going to be a Cabinet shuffle so we're kind of stalled right now. And also the head of the environmental commission has retired as well, and I think so has the deputy minister–no, not the deputy minister, the president of the agency has retired. So we're seeing a lot of changes taking place and we hope that doesn't stall the process.
We are ready to go and if we got the environmental approval right now, we would be able to proceed. We've got everything ready to go and it would be a four-year project.
Mr. Gerrard: There's been a lot of concern about the long time that it took to get the people in Pauingassi and Little Grand Rapids back into their communities.
There's major questions about why it should have taken so long, but one of the critical questions is also: what is the province doing to prevent such long absences from communities which, in fact, are very expensive while people are evacuated and have to spend time away from their communities? What measures are being taken to make sure that the electricity infrastructure is not damaged by fires in the future and that communities don't have to be left in the lurch for months at a time?
Mr. Schuler: To you, Mr. Gerrard, a lot of that is federal government. As we know, First Nations are federal government responsibility.
So, a lot of Operation Return Home took place under the previous NDP government. Perhaps Mr. Wiebe could give you a little more briefing why there was so much delay.
Also, because the reserves had to be moved because they were basically in a flood plain. So new lands were identified. It involved a lot of consultation, then new homes had to be built. It was too long. It was uncomfortably long, and I'm sure, through you–through the Chair–you were here for that whole period of time, you know how difficult that all was.
Insofar as hydro lines are concerned, this was a particularly dry year and the problem was that the fires were incredibly intense. So it wasn't just a brush fire burning through. Even if we would have had steel structures, which I think they're going to look at, we still would have had a lot of damage. The fires were very intense and often they would burn through twice, so the first time they would burn through quickly and burn the underbrush and they would burn through a second time and burn more of the fuel that hadn't been burnt up the first time.
So it was very hard to get to those communities, and I know that Manitoba Hydro is going to probably have a really good review of that. I would suggest that when the minister responsible for Crown corporations has his Estimates, you might want to raise that with him as well. But, you know, valid point and thank you for raising it–through the Chair to you.
Mr. Gerrard: I think that the follow-up study–it involves the First Nations communities of Paungassi and Little Grand Rapids–that there could be some measures taken now to prevent those sorts of problems in the future. I think that there are certainly issues with forest fires as we had with those two communities, but I believe that we could better mitigate the damage from those fires and do a better job of preventing people having to be a long time out of their community.
My next question has to do with–there was a major washout at a bridge in Neepawa, and what is the timeline for repairing that bridge and returning things back to normal, and is that what the government is planning?
Mr. Schuler: First of all, through you, Mr. Chair, to Mr. Gerrard, I just want to say that as the last two surviving of the class of 1999, if you have any suggestions please always forward them to me. I've great respect for you and your time that you have served politics and if there is something that you want to advise us on, we would love to hear it from you.
Insofar as the dam in Neepawa goes, we toured that right after the event took place and we subsequently have been back several times. I would suggest to you that it was probably initially a bit of a burn. So we went through there and there was concrete, wood, steel–it had just about everything in it and that's all got to be taken out.
I am talking about–I just want to be very clear, Mr. Gerrard. I'm talking about the Rapid City Dam, which is the one that got washed out. The Rapid City Dam is going to be rebuilt. We understand that there is difficulty with it, simply because we're going to have to take out the whole dam. It's got way too many old components–probably it's got, I don't know, they figure anywhere from 60 to 80 years worth of different designs; we'll structure a proper one in there.
And I think the other one that you're talking about, the one in Neepawa, was one that just held back, it was sort of like a bit of a lake, and that one got washed out. That would be more of a municipal project and you would have to talk to them about it.
The other one we are engineering–and again, what we want to put back, we want to put back that it could survive a one-in-1,000-year rain event. One of the issues was, when that river's dam broke and let all the water go, that put the extra stress onto Lake Wahtopanah and that dam.
So we don't want that happening again. We want to make sure that all the dams can hold, that if you have a one-in-1,000-year event, the last dam doesn't bear all the pressure and all the stress from everything else having been suddenly released, because there was a lot of cfs that came into Lake Wahtopanah and that put the stress on the spillway.
So thank you for that question. The one is actually more of a municipal project than the other one. Yes, we are working on it, and we view these as climate-resiliency projects. They have to be built, and they have to be built to one in 1,000, not putting back what it current exists.