Northern highways need federal disaster assistance to cope with effects of high rainfall, says MP

Northern Manitoba NDP MP Niki Ashton says high rainfall is wreaking havoc on highways north of Thompson and that the federal government needs to provide disaster assistance to remedy the problem.

A portion of Highway 280 42 kilometres east of Split Lake was experiencing flooding on July 2, according to a Manitoba highway conditions report just before 9 a.m. and there was high water at the edge of the road for a two-kilometre stretch beginning about 35 kilometres east of Split Lake the previous day. A washout made the highway impassable June 30. There was also an incident a few days earlier in which water was flowing over Highway 391 north of the Nelson House junction, reportedly due to beaver activity in the area resulting in blocked culverts.

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“Our north has had record rainfall and it’s meant that highways like PR 280 have washed out, Highway 391 has been deeply damaged and other roads including the one to Sherridon have been affected,” said Ashton, who represents the Churchill-Keewatinook Aski riding, in  June 30 press release. “People have been left stranded. Communities are struggling. Federal disaster assistance must be made available to address the situation.”

Thompson saw 117.8 millimetres of rain fall in June, the second-highest total in the last six years behind 2018, when there was 161.6 millimetres of rain. In 2016 there was only 44.3 millimetres of rain in Thompson in June, while in 2015, 2017 and 2019 there was about 60 millimetres for the month.

The June 30 washout on Highway 280, which took around six hours to repair, delayed a few shipments of food to Manitoba Hydro’s Keeyask dam construction site, which now has a full complement of about 1,000 workers onsite, said a Manitoba Hydro spokesperson, while the one that occurred July 2 was past the Keeyask junction and had no effect on operations.

Ashton said cutbacks by the province, which is responsible for building and maintaining highways, is part of the problem.

“The hiring freeze for civil servants, the cutbacks to the maintenance of our highways and the neglect of northerners’ infrastructure needs has contributed to this situation. Northerners depend on highways to get in  and out of their communities, access essential services and live their lives. The federal government must be part of the solution to invest and restore critical infrastructure now.”

The high amount of rain has also affected the boat launch and docks at Paint Lake Provincial Park, with the lake having risen high enough that people using the docks have to go through the water to get onto them now, though the Liz Lake launch is still accessible as normal, according to a post by Paint Lake Lodge. The high water also forced Paint Lake Lodge to shut down its fuel tank June 30.

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