The City of Winnipeg says it will not charge property owners for thawing pipes on their side of the property line, but those who had their pipes thawed before Monday won't get their service fees waived.
The city announced Monday afternoon that its crews will thaw pipes free of charge, regardless of whether the frozen pipe is on the city's side or on the property owner's side.
"There should not be any cost, based on the change that we have put into place," Mayor Sam Katz told reporters on Monday afternoon.
But the latest move is not retroactive, meaning citizens who had their pipes thawed on private property before Monday will still be charged $305 by the city for having the the work done.
"The realities are in any situation … whereby things change, this is just the way it is," Katz said.
"A while ago if you bought something, you only pay seven per cent PST. Now you pay eight per cent PST. I mean, it is what it is."
The news may not provide much comfort to the hundreds of Winnipeggers who have been dealing with frozen pipes — and no running water — in recent weeks.
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Homeowner Ron Dorman said he first had frozen pipes at the end of January, and crews showed up in mid-February to thaw the pipes.
Even though the frozen pipe was on city property, and despite assurances from crews that he wouldn't be billed, Dorman got a $305 invoice for thawing services from the city.
"The fellows that reconnected us … said, 'No, no, no, don't you worry. The city will pay for it, they'll reimburse you, any excess they'll take off the bill,'" he said.
"Then we got a letter that said … 'You're going to be responsible for up to $500.'"
Adding insult to injury is the fact that Dorman's pipes are frozen again, meaning he's back on the waiting list to get his pipes thawed.
Charleswood-Tuxedo Coun. Paula Havixbeck said the city should look at reimbursing everyone who is affected.
"What's the difference whether you had a thawed pipe, a pipe that needed thawing a month ago, or last week or yesterday? And now today we have a different rule," she said.
"So I think we need to look at what kind of numbers there are and whether we can reimburse that."
Number of affected properties keeps growing
As of Monday afternoon, 927 properties across the city have frozen pipes, which is up from 868 on Sunday.
A total of 1,566 properties have had frozen pipes since November, with 639 having their water restored through pipe thawing.
City crews have been operating three specialized pipe-thawing machines seven days a week, with the average wait time being between 12 to 17 days long.
Some residents have said the pipes should be thawed faster, even if it means borrowing machines from other cities.
Katz said the city has been asking around, with no luck to date.
"I want you to know that every single city and municipality that we thought there might be any chance of providing help through equipment and whatever has been contacted, and that means all the way going to New York," he said.
"There's just nothing out there that's available right now as we speak."
Even the emergency measures officer in Brandon, Man., has said its pipe-thawing equipment is needed in that city, Katz said.
Frost to persist through May
Among those having to boil snow and get water from their neighbours are Ross and Vivian Cameron, who have had frozen pipes since early Friday morning.
"Yeah, I melt snow a little bit for the plants and the toilet and so forth," Ross Cameron said.
"We've been getting a little bit of water and going to the neighbours, so we are ahead of the game."
Randy Hull, the city's emergency preparedness coordinator, said the underground frost that has created the frozen pipes problem will likely persist well into April and May.
However, Hull said the situation should plateau or improve when people in areas at risk of having frozen pipes, who have been asked by the city to run a trickle of water from their taps, start doing so.
In addition to the 927 properties waiting for their pipes to be thawed, nearly 5,000 properties across the city are at risk of having frozen water pipes.
Despite the extent of the frozen pipes problem, the mayor said he is confident the city will get it under control soon.
"I do believe that it will go up for a little bit, and then if everybody starts heeding the warnings when we come out there and tell them, 'Start turning your water on,' it'll start going down," Katz said.
Katz said 217 properties have been connected with temporary water supplies, mainly via hoses connected to neighbouring properties with running water, while 710 currently do not have any water supply.
Over the weekend, members of the Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service went door to door, alerting at-risk homeowners to keep their taps running a trickle of water.
But it was too late for Ross and Vivian Cameron, whose pipes were frozen by the time they received their notice.
"We said we are already in trouble, and they said, 'Well, we are a little late,'" said Ross.
Added Vivian, "That was alright; they tried."
Firefighters have also been delivering jugs of potable water to affected homes and businesses, with a priority placed on delivering water to people who have mobility issues.
City officials said there is no clear answer on reimbursement on water bills for those who are sharing their water supply with a neighbour dealing with frozen pipes.
Councillors briefed by officials
Katz and Hull spoke to reporters after city officials briefed councillors for the first time on Monday about the frozen pipes emergency.
Councillors spoke with almost every department head during the closed-door meeting, hearing a summary of the city's actions and plans to date.
St. Norbert Coun. Justin Swandel, who chairs the public works committee, says he is satisfied with the city's response.
"We've got the drinking needs looked after, we've got the bathing needs looked after and human needs looked after and the convenience piece is there as soon as we can get that cross connection done"
But Havixbeck said said she was disappointed that Monday's council briefing was not more of a working meeting.
"There's some ideas worth exploring a little bit more and there wasn't an opportunity to present those," she said.
The ideas that have been floated include giving displaced residents the option to stay in hotels. Havixbeck said she plans to table a motion calling on the city to explore the idea.
Havixbeck said she will try to bring up her ideas at a meeting of the city's finance committee on Thursday.