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Highway 75 back in business but at great expense

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Highway 75 is fully open to drivers for the first time in over a month, but the impact of its closure and local flooding is still being felt by residents of Morris.

The province first closed a length of the highway that crosses the U.S. border and is heavily used for trucking on May 2, after an overflow from the Red River forced the closure of a ring levee in the city at approximately 60 kilometers south of Winnipeg.

While the southern part was reopened on May 27, the northern part was blocked until Monday evening.

The four-week closure was the first of its kind in more than a decade, said Ralph Groening, reeve of the Rural Municipality of Morris.

“It still has a very serious impact on everyone in the region,” he told the Free press tuesday.

“Our life has just been different over the past 1.5 to 2 months. Traveling is hard, getting anywhere has gotten harder. So we’re slowly getting back to normal.”

Floodwater damaged shoulders and materials at some lane edges along the highway. Traffic control devices have been placed to signal hazards and the province plans to repair that damage once the flooding recedes, a spokesperson said in an email.

While Provincial Route 246 on the east side of the Red River was upgraded to act as a detour around Highway 75, the province planned to extend the dike south of Morris, but this was not completed in time. said Mayor Scott Crick.

“It’s just a shame that the sea wall wasn’t completed because if it had been, the disruption for us locally would have been nominal,” he said. “Unfortunately, that 200 meters of highway that was just under water was enough to prevent that trade corridor from being in effect.”

Expansion work on the Morris Dyke is scheduled for the summer, a provincial spokesperson said.

With both sides of the freeway closed, many people who frequent Morris businesses in the surrounding area have gone elsewhere. Over the past month, Crick said, many local business owners already suffering the fallout from losses related to the COVID-19 pandemic have seen a further drop of 50% or more in sales.

Morris businesses have fallen through the cracks of provincial and federal support, the mayor said: Because the town is open and operational, they can’t apply for business interruption insurance, and because they are protected by the dyke and not damaged by water, they are not eligible for disaster financial assistance.

Crick said he contacted the province twice to request that the disaster financial assistance program be expanded to include sunk costs in Morris, but received no response.

“The infrastructure, they’re still working on it, it will get fixed eventually. But what are we going to do when it’s not fixed? And how can we help these local businesses?” said the mayor.

“We’re not even talking millions of dollars here, we’re talking thousands of dollars so small family businesses can stay open and keep track of their expenses and keep people employed.”

The only full-service grocery store Morris saw a 25% drop in sales for the month of May.

“It affected us negatively. Not that it was impossible to reach us, but it becomes a long drive, so it doesn’t make sense for them to come,” Morris Bigway owner Pat Schmitke said.

The detours bypassed many local businesses on the north side that truckers would normally frequent, such as gas stations and restaurants, Schmitke said.

“I’ve heard positive things since the opening of Highway 75 yesterday,” he said. “You’re visible to people again, and that’s made a big difference.”

The impact of flooded roads goes beyond the city. The RM expects flood repairs to cost $10 million; about 150 people had to flee their homes, Groening said.

It remains a high stress situation, the prefect added, as many washed out and damaged roads prevent farmers from getting to their land, pushing back plantings already delayed by spring storms.

“There’s a lot of anxiety right now for our farming community to put that crop in the ground next week, really, that’s their deadline,” he said.

RM officials met on Tuesday to discuss how they can speed up road repairs, but some farmers may miss the deadlines to achieve ideal harvest results.

“The worst-case scenario would be farmers being unable to put the crop in the ground, unable to sow before the deadline, which basically means no pay, no productivity,” Groening said. “That’s the pressure the farming community lives with.”

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Malak Abas