A Rural Municipality in Manitoba Gets Served With Freedom of Information Papers

Dear Editor,

I guess only time will tell whether my local government, the RM of Shell River, will opt to build another earthen sewage lagoon, this one in the country west of Roblin, or turn to more modern technology for the treatment of human waste.
A Manitoba company called Blue Diamond Technologies, Ltd., briefed the Council last week on its own, more modern system which is already treating hog waste right here in this province. Three company officials presented details of their technology to the last RM meeting. They explained they are already testing their system on sewage in the Town of Carman. They maintain their way is not only more eco-friendly but likely cheaper than a lagoon, as well.

The Reeve and Councillors gave them a fair hearing and asked questions to get more information.

I've certainly read and heard enough to know, I think, that there are many drawbacks with the old-style lagoons. Given this fact, and based on what I learned in the Blue Diamond presentation, I hope that system, at the very least, gets a closer look.

To their credit, Councillors seem prepared to take that look.

The sad part is, they have brought down a virtual shroud of secrecy over their original plans for a lagoon.

What are the results of drill tests done back in March on a site east of Lake of the Prairies? Is the soil there suitable for a lagoon? Is it impermeable enough, or will it require an expensive liner?

"We sort of know," is the answer. But they won't tell us and won't say why not!

Will the "feasibility study" now being done by a Winnipeg company, J.R. Cousin Consultants Ltd, be made public when it's done?

"Not sure," is the answer.

Is it true that that same firm (Cousin), is also in the running to actually build the lagoon? If so, can a company hoping to profit from building a major project, do an objective job of finding out if it is feasible or not? Will it accurately assess the need for it, or will it be tempted to exaggerate that need?
Has the RM given Cousin some kind of commitment to do the job, even before opening it up to any kind of public input, whatsoever? I have no idea and I'm not suggesting they have. I'm only saying, given the current level of secrecy, it's impossible to sort rumour from fact.

Another thing. Is this $600 thousand dollars said to be available to the RM from senior governments for wastewater treatment, transferrable to technology other than a lagoon? No one is explaining that, either. As a matter of fact, no one is really explaining anything.

The secrecy has now built to such a level, I served the RM with papers last week, requesting some answers, under the Government of Manitoba's Freedom of Information Act. The Act provides we, the public, with a right of access to records held by public bodies, including local governments like Shell River. If answers are not forthcoming by June 5th, I will, as the Act provides, be launching a formal complaint with the provincial ombudsman.

I remain eternally hopeful, however, that my RM will do the right thing and voluntarily disclose this information before then, so that such action will not be necessary. This information is also crucial to a wise decision, one which involves the knowledge and participation, not only of our local government, but of all concerned residents and ratepayers, as well.

Larry Powell
Roblin, MB


Christine said…
Good luck with this very local, and important, fight, Larry.
I am struggling with my own Municipality right now over a simple community gardening project. Why is it that local govts so easily and quickly forget who they are representing?
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