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Budget 2018: Disaster spending goes up in Newfoundland and Labrador

Minister of Municipal Affairs and Environment Eddie Joyce.
Minister of Municipal Affairs and Environment Eddie Joyce. — File photo

Government to review flood risk downstream of Muskrat Falls

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. - The provincial government is spending plenty on municipalities in the 2018 budget, including more research downstream of Muskrat Falls.

Government will give a total of $75 million to municipalities across the province.

Included in that will be $2 million for flood risk mapping studies in places like Mud Lake and Happy Valley-Goose Bay.

Another $200,000 has been earmarked for satellite imagery for looking at ice thickness, monitoring and weather at those sites as well.

For disaster financial assistance, the province is setting aside $12.4 million — roughly $5 million more than was spent last year.

Municipal Affairs Minister Eddie Joyce said the extra $5 million is tied directly to the floods on the west coast earlier this year, not a permanent increase to that fund.

“In Muskrat Falls downstream at Mud Lake, the report stated that it wasn’t because of Muskrat Falls. It was just a perfect storm of what happened in the area,” he said.

“What we’re doing as a government, we’re taking every precaution we can to prevent and get the best information we can. We’re always concerned about every resident in the province —Mud Lake is no exception.”

The flood on the west coast will end up costing the province $6.6 million for repairs of municipal buildings, with repairs expected to be completed in 2019-20.

Speaking of disasters, $33.7 million is going to the Commission of Inquiry Respecting the Muskrat Falls project, $20 million in 2018, with another $13.7 million in 2019.

Finance Minister Tom Osborne said the money is well spent if government learns from the mistakes of the project.

“There’s a lot of learn. If we do another project, whether it’s an oil project or whatever we do as a province, we have to learn from that mistake,” he said.

“I can say that there’s a lot of places we could use $33 million, but if we learn from the mistakes that were made at Muskrat Falls and why the projects were so off, we can use what we use from that inquiry to ensure we don’t make the same mistakes.”

Another $3 million will go to support the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. The province will also give $1 million for an inquiry into the treatment of Innu children in the foster care system.

Municipalities will get $22 million for their operating grants, consistent with what was paid out last year. An additional $7.1 million will go to towns and communities from a portion of the gas tax revenues, though that fund will be reduced in the future.

“We’re planning to phase out the gasoline tax, the remaining four cents, as the carbon program comes into place,” said Osborne.

“We’re still finalizing details with the federal government — this spring we’ll be announcing the full details of the carbon program.”

There are no details in the 2018 budget about the plans for a carbon tax in the province. Osborne said those plans are still forthcoming, with the deadline for the provinces to submit their plans still standing at Jan. 1, 2019. That said, the province will get $7.6 million in 2018 from the federal low carbon economy fund, with up to $44.7 million coming from that fund over the next four years.

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The City of St. John’s will be happy to see another $13 million from the province towards the completion of the Team Gushue Highway. The highway will be completed up to Topsail Road.

Transportation and Works Minister Steve Crocker wants tires on the ground by the end of the year for the Topsail Road portion, but the full completion is a harder question to answer.

“That’s something right now that’s not in advanced planning stages, but something that we’ll look at,” he said.

“Any time you build a new highway and try to integrate it into an existing highway system, some of the challenges are around integrating the storm water system with the city.”

Crocker said the province intends to turn the highway over to the City of St. John’s for maintenance.

The province will also give $600,000 for upgrades to highway cameras across the province. Four new cameras will be installed on the Trans Canada Highway between Port Aux Basques and Corner Brook, on routes 330, 430 and 460.

Education Minister Dale Kirby said the issue of library closures is a “dead issue,” as $11 million in annual funding to libraries will continue, unchanged.

Keeping with education, $1 million has been set aside for Bay d’Espoir Academy to work on planning and design work. The project is expected to be completed in 2021-22. The replacement for Coley’s Point Primary has $1.8 million set aside for design and a construction tender, also set to be completed in 2021-22.

david.maher@thetelegram.com

Twitter: DavidMaherNL

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