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Plan to extend Manitoba’s CentrePort highway may imperil rare ‘rainforest of the prairies’

Shane Gibson/MetroA massive highway project connecting the second phase of CentrePort Canada Way to the Trans-Canada Highway near St. François Xavier may put a rare tall-grass prairie preserve at St. Charles Rifle Range in harms way.

A massive highway project that’s touted as critical to growing Manitoba’s economy may also put one of the province’s few remaining tall-grass prairie preserves in peril.

The province is planning to extend CentrePort Canada Way — the four-lane expressway linking Inkster Boulevard to the west Perimeter Highway — to the Trans-Canada Highway near St. François Xavier.

The expressway will be an important trucking route for CentrePort Canada, the 20,000-acre inland port expected to bring huge economic opportunities to Manitoba.

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But the new roadway’s proposed path runs through the St. Charles Rifle Range, land owned by the Department of National Defence (DND) and home to one of the province’s largest remaining plots of tall-grass prairie.

“It’s surprising to me that they’re even consider that… because there’s land on either side that isn’t sensitive ecologically,” said ecologist and president of Prairie Habitats Inc. John Morgan, whose Manitoba-based company specializes in restoring native prairies.

“Tall-grass prairies have a lot of species —  both plants and animals — that are not found anywhere else, and some have potential for foods and medicines. It’s why we call them the rainforests of the prairies.”

The 250-acres of tall-grass prairie is nestled behind a shooting range the DND has trained at since acquiring the land more than a century ago. That ownership has been what’s kept the tall-grass prairie untouched, explained 17 Wing Winnipeg environmental officer Marc Dettman, who worries what will happen to it if the range if the land is sold.

“The problem is that because there’s no species at risk here, there’s no way to protect the tall-grass prairie,” he said. “It is definitely a rare ecosystem, but unfortunately ecosystems themselves don’t have protection under our species at risk legislation.”

In a statement, the province said they are in the beginning stages of design and are working on a route that “will preserve as much of the existing natural prairie habitat as possible.”

Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

 

With last hurdles cleared, CentrePort has water deal

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After four years, a failed annexation attempt, a First Nations lawsuit and an international ruling, CentrePort Canada is finally getting water.

The planned industrial hub will be serviced by a new $45-million water-treatment plant to be built in Headingley over the next two years. Heritage Minister Shelly Glover announced $12.1 million in federal infrastructure funding Wednesday, the first batch of cash to be doled out from the new Building Canada Fund. The plant and the pipes will also serve Stony Mountain penitentiary, which is expanding and needs water, so the Correctional Service of Canada is chipping in $2.4 million.

CentrePort's lack of proper water and sewer services has stymied progress on a federal-provincial promise to turn 8,000 hectares of largely vacant land straddling Winnipeg and the RM of Rosser into a hub of new industrial activity that leverages nearby rail, highway and airport infrastructure.

Already, $212 million has been spent building a new freeway, CentrePort Canada Way, through the land. But wooing big companies was stalled by years of uncertainty and wrangling over the water supply.

Originally, after Rosser shunned the city's proposal to annex part of the rural municipality, the city agreed to extend water and sewer services to CentrePort. But two First Nations near Winnipeg's water source at Shoal Lake, Ont., balked, saying the city had no right to sell water to neighbouring municipalities and the plan violated the terms of a century-old agreement. A preliminary ruling by the International Joint Commission, which handles water disputes, sided with the First Nations.

Instead, CentrePort decided to pump water from the Assiniboine River, which came with the need to build a new water plant.

The cost of the plant, 20 kilometres of pipe and a pumphouse and reservoir will be split three ways between Ottawa, the province and the Cartier Regional Water Co-op, which serves Rosser, Headingley and five other municipalities.

Roughly 2,000 homes now on wells will also be connected to the water supply.

Asked whether the expanded water service will spur additional residential growth outside the city limits, Rosser Reeve Frances Smee said that's unlikely in her RM. The lines won't go where development is planned in Rosser.

Municipal Government Minister Stan Struthers, on hand for Wednesday's funding announcement, said it remains to be seen whether new pipes and expanded treatment capacity will spur exurban growth. Rural municipalities will deal with proposed development as they always have.

Cartier Reeve Roland Rasmussen said the water co-op's only treatment plant in St. Eustache was running near capacity and the co-op would have had to consider expansion options in the next couple of years anyway. That CentrePort's immediate needs helped the region secure millions in capital funding was a welcome bit of good timing.

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Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 26, 2014 A4

http://www.centreportcanada.ca/land-and-space