Flood money used to pay for contractor’s mistake: report

Questions are being raised about why a provincial government flood compensation program was used to pay for a contractor’s faulty work.

Province deems expense eligible for payment

Lac Du Bonnet farmer Cameron Neurenberg questions why a provincial government flood compensation program was used to pay for a contractor’s faulty work. (CBC)

Questions are being raised about why a provincial government flood compensation program was used to pay for a contractor’s faulty work.  

“What we’re talking about here is public monies were utilized inappropriately,” said Lac Du Bonnet farmer, Cameron Neurenberg, in an interview with CBC News.

In 2010, the rural municipality hired Don Sikora Contracting Ltd. to repair a drainage ditch on Grant Road.  The repair was funded by the Disaster Financial Assistance Program, which offers financial support to communities affected by natural disasters.  

In the spring of 2011, the ditch failed. The RM filed another claim with the DFA program and hired Don Sikora Contracting Ltd. to do a second repair.  

Meanwhile, the province asked engineering firm Stantec Consulting Ltd. to inspect the site.
An Oct. 14, 2011 report by engineer Wayne Byczek states, “The site failed due to improper installation of the materials from the original 2010 EMO [Emergency Measures Organization] Claim,” which was completed by Don Sikora Contracting Ltd.

“Two rolls of geotextile were provided on-site by the RM to the contractor and the contractor used only one roll,” said Byczek’s report.

“This site should be dismissed from the 2011 EMO Claim list,” the report concluded.

Province funds second claim 

But the provincial department in charge of releasing DFA funds did not heed that advice. EMO sent a letter to the RM of Lac du Bonnet in November, 2011 saying it would pay the claim. 

“Although the engineer’s report suggests the damages are the result of an improper repair conducted in 2010, we have determined the damages are eligible and will provide assistance,” the EMO letter stated.

That did not sit well with some people in Lac Du Bonnet, including Cameron Neurenberg.

“It's important when you have public monies and a good program with good intent that these are managed effectively. And I fear that my personal experiences….that has not been the case,” Neurenberg said of the DFA payout.  

Second repair questioned 

Sikora’s company was also hired to build a ditch on Zolondek Road, bordering Neurenberg’s farmland.  In the spring of 2009, Neurenberg said he saw problems before any heavy rain or flooding had taken place.

“We actually had roadslides where the shoulder of the municipal road actually began to slide into the dredge,” said Neurenberg.

“It’s tremendously dangerous,” he said. “These slopes that gave way off the shoulders were three to five feet deep. It would be like driving into a hole.”

Neurenberg was surprised when the RM wanted to file a DFA claim to fix Zolondek Road. He took his concerns to the RM and the province but said he felt ignored.

In an email obtained by CBC news, the RM’s public works manager blamed the Zolondek Road failure partly on construction.

“The exact cause of the slope/road failures is that the original ditch should have been moved over to accommodate a better slop. Afterward the major cause was the severe weather we received,” the manager explained.

Evidence supported the allegation: Auditor General’s report

Complaints about the two repairs to the Grant Road drain prompted an investigation by Manitoba’s Auditor General.  

“Evidence supported the allegation,” the 2013 Auditor General report stated, pointing out that EMO was aware of possible negligence, but did not probe further.

“They paid the related claim without verifying if any of the damage was due to that potential negligence,” stated the report.

In an interview with CBC News, Acting Provincial Auditor Norman Ricard said if there was improper workmanship, EMO shouldn’t have paid the second claim.

“[EMO] should have a policy in place to guide them when there is suspected improper workmanship on repair of a prior claim. Do you pay for it again? Or do you decline the claim - deny the claim - and force the municipality to go after the contractor?” said Ricard.

Earlier this year, then Auditor General Carol Bellringer suggested a change to provincial rules during a meeting of the Public Accounts Committee at the Manitoba Legislature.

“The Emergency Measures should make a condition of the payment that it be pursued by the municipality,” Bellringer told the committee.

In an email to CBC news, the Manitoba Emergency Measures Department rebuffed the criticisms.

“Municipalities select their own contractors based on their own processes, and must ensure it receives quality work in accordance with its contract,” said a spokesperson.

The audit report pointed out that EMO is supposed to inspect repair work once it’s completed - something that didn’t happen after the drain was repaired the first time.

The auditor also criticized the RM of Lac du Bonnet for a lack of action in the ordeal. The RM, however, did not fully agree with the auditor’s findings.

“We accept and acknowledge the fault stated in Stantec’s Engineering report indicating the first repair was not sufficient and have made improvements… We do not believe the contractor was negligent for the reoccurring damage,” the RM said in its response to the auditor’s report.

Don Sikora contracting Ltd. was paid $26,800 in 2010 for the work which later failed. Stantec estimated it would cost an additional $26,000 to repair the site.  

Don Sikora did not respond to our requests for an interview.  The RM of Lac Du Bonnet also turned down our request for an interview.

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