Muskoka To-DAILY

MPP Miller questions MNR about flooding, water levels, staffing

QUEEN’S PARK – Questions about spring flooding in Central Ontario, water levels across Parry-Sound and Muskoka, and MNR staffing were on the lips of MPP Norm Miller Tuesday morning in the Provincial Legislature as he tried to get some answers from the Minister of Natural Resources.

But David Orazietti offered little of substance in a pair of responses, beyond assurances that the government and staff aren’t in over their heads on the issue.

The exchanges comes as Muskokans are worried about a repeat of last year’s multi-million flooding.

Miller, MPP for Parry Sound – Muskoka took the opportunity to directly question the minister.

“At the end of January, areas of Muskoka had already received greater snowfall than the average for an entire winter. With snow still falling and adding to what has accumulated on the ground, managing the large amounts of meltwater and runoff this spring will be a challenge.” said Miller.

During question period, Miller also took the opportunity to have the Minister clarify if the recent MNR staffing changes would affect local offices, and if the government could ensure that experienced staff will be available to oversee the operation and control of the waterways.

“With the severity of the flooding last spring, it is critically important to be prepared for high water levels this spring. Having ample staff with local knowledge and experience managing the watershed are an invaluable asset for what very well could prove to be high flow conditions again this spring” added Miller.

“With what we experienced last spring, there is no excuse for not being fully prepared”

A full transcript of the question and response from the government is included below.

Here’s that exchange: 

Ontario Hansard – Tuesday, March 18, 2014 

Mr. Norm Miller: My question is to the Minister of Natural Resources. Minister, last spring, people living in Parry Sound–Muskoka and across central Ontario were hit hard by record spring floods brought on by torrential rains. In my riding, the towns of Huntsville and Bracebridge both declared a state of emergency due to the conditions. Many people around the lakes and across ParrySound–Muskoka are still recovering from this 100-year flood event. So my question is, with nearly a full year elapsed since the floods last spring, what review has your ministry conducted into the management of the local water system? 

Hon. David Orazietti: I want to thank the member for the question. As we know, the challenges that were faced by residents in this area, given these unprecedented levels of rainfall, were very, very significant and very challenging. MNR’s responsibility, as the member knows, is to provide flood information, warning updates and information, so that local individuals can respond in a timely way and do the best job that they can to prepare and mitigate any negative effects as a result of this type of natural disaster. We are continuing to improve, to update and to ensure that the local officials in the areas and the communities that the member is talking about have the information that they need in a timely way and we’re committed to continue to work with the representatives in these communities. 

The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Supplementary? 

Mr. Norm Miller: Thank you, again, to the Minister of Natural Resources. Areas of Parry Sound–Muskoka received record snowfalls this winter — over 400 centimetres. Even without significant rainfall, managing the watershed this spring will be a challenge. Minister, I think you know how important local knowledge and years of experience is for ministry staff that manage the watershed and understand the system. Minister, I also know your ministry is going through what you call the MNR transformation plan that involves staff changes.

So, my question, Minister, is can you assure me that we are not losing key water control specialists in the Bracebridge or Parry Sound MNR offices in your transformation? 

Hon. David Orazietti: The member has got a very important question here with respect to the safety of residents in his community, and with respect to the rainfall, the runoff and the unprecedented levels of snowfall this year.

I understand from our ministry folks that we’ve already in fact issued some

warnings to be on this in a very proactive way, to ensure that those notifications are issued at the earliest possible point.

With respect to our transformation initiative, I certainly commit to the member that those individuals that have the responsibility for indicating this information to local community residents will continue to remain in place and will be working very closely with representatives of his communities.

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