Traffic is once again flowing north and south through Morris on Highway 75 now the last of the dike closures around the community has come down.
Mayor Scott Crick says it's a time to celebrate the fact the community made it through another flood event, but notes it's also tinged with a slightly different tone this time around. Crick explained Council will be looking to the Province and Manitoba Transportation and Infrastructure (MTI) to answer a few questions.
"I think, for a lot of people, the fact we had to close (Highway) 75 South, there were quite a few questions asked about that. Unfortunately, I can't provide the answers," he said. "Was there something that could have been done to keep the 200 yards of (Highway) 75 open south of town, so traffic could have continued through? I don't know. Could the dike have been completed as scheduled so it was ready in the event of this high water event? I don't know that either."
When the Province announced at the start of May the south dike would be closed, Crick said the expectation within the community was the floodproofing south of town had been completed. However, the Mayor said he was quickly reminded by MTI, at that time, that no, they still had a portion of the dike extension to finish on the northbound lanes, and traffic would not be able to come through at 2009/2011 (flood) levels.
Crick is encouraging citizens and business owners to also ask these questions of government.
"Back when we originally talked with the Province about the PR 246 detour, we wanted to remove the entire concept or the perception of Southern Manitoba being susceptible to flooding, that floods, at most, should be a minor inconvenience, and at worst, a major inconvenience once every century," said Crick. "The fact we haven't got there is extremely disappointing. We, as a community, have been out messaging exactly how great Central Manitoba is, we've invested in an industrial park to attract business here, and yet all of that goodwill and work put in over the last decade just completely evaporated simply because we didn't get things done on the timeline we needed to get them done on. I think, for us a Council, and even for us as a community, that's got to be one of the most disappointing parts of the whole thing."
As a result of the closures, Crick says local businesses suffered.
"And that can be profound, especially for a smaller community like Morris where a lot of our business tends to be retail and restaurants and services. They suffer immensely when traffic comes down. And it's not just traffic on Highway 75, but it's even people in the region who live in the surrounding RMs to take advantage of these services," he explained.
According to estimates provided by Crick, local entrepreneurs saw up to 50 percent loss of business at the start of the closures, and as much as 75 percent by the end.
"What does that do to employment in the local community?" asked Crick. "If you can no longer offer stable employment to people, how are able to attract and retain them?"
He says there are no financial remedies to help these businesses make up for the losses, noting they have fallen into a programming gap.
"The Disaster Financial Assistance (DFA) program is set up to really help businesses cover losses that are not insurable," explained Crick. "So, if your business is flood-damaged physically, then DFA can step in and help provide assistance with that. However, DFA does not ensure things which are called 'insurable' such as business interruption. However, businesses are unable to be able to claim business interruption insurance, because the town never fully closed. If we had fully closed, or we had flooded physically as a community, then businesses would be able to claim something back from their insurance company."
Crick adds they have asked Premier Stefanson and Midland MLA Blaine Pedersen to consider opening up the DFA program to this consideration, and says they have yet to hear back.
Meantime, Crick says each and every business owner he spoke with expressed how much they appreciated having local residents come and still continue to support their business.
"And so a big thank you to everybody who certainly helped with that."