Blair Olafson figures it will be two or three years before business is back to usual at The Narrows West Lodge.
The lodge, about 220 kms north of Winnipeg, has been in Olafson’s family since 1970 and his family can trace its roots in this area back to 1895. Never has anyone seen the water like this. Last month Olafson took his father and some friends for a boat tour of the damage. He was shocked to discover he could easily place a hand on The Narrows bridge as they cruised under it, when clearance of about 12 feet is normal.
But there is nothing normal about this summer at The Narrows West Lodge. Beautiful rental chalets face huge raised dikes instead of vast Lake Manitoba waters. The boat launch is gone, replaced by murky waters and green slime. Bottles, tires and anonymous debris stick out at odd and dangerous angles.
“The garbage is terrible, you can’t imagine it,” Olafson says. “Staircases, gazebos, play structures. It washes into us every day. And the stench is overpowering. I don’t know what makes that smell, but it can’t be healthy.”
The Narrows West Lodge provides several streams of income to Olafson, including fishing and hunting packages, bait fishing and camping, and they’ve all taken a hit. His revenue is down this year by about half. Just before the May long weekend, media reported high waters at The Narrows. TV stations showed a photo of The Narrows bridge covered in water and that, Olafson says, was the beginning of a desperate season.
“People haven’t even called. They just saw those photos and decided we weren’t open. We usually see 1,200 campers and this year, it’s been about 200. We usually have half a dozen weddings but this year, they were all cancelled.”
Every year, Olafson offers 45 spots for rent on his boat dock. This year, the boat dock is entirely submerged. Not only has he lost that guaranteed income, those boaters aren’t coming in because they don’t want to run their boats on shore and risk damage. More loss.
The lodge serves as the local gathering spot for coffee, beers, and everything in between. But neighbouring farms and communities, such as Reykjavik, have been evacuated for months. Business is slow, and the locals that arrive have only grim news to report.
“I was talking with two farmers, one is 77 years old, the other is probably 70. Well, they have all this lake property. They can’t sell this land. Who wants to buy it? And if someone wants to buy it, how do you value it? If the water goes down, if it goes back to its natural state, it’s going to take five, six, maybe seven years. A farmer retires with his land, that’s his pension plan. So what happens to these guys?” Olafson says.
Olfason is frustrated with the government’s coping abilities as the problems continue to rise due to the man-made flooding of Lake Manitoba. He says officials are spreading the word that compensation is being promptly doled out to local businesses and farmers, but the truth is another story. He offers up a tale that shows just how effectively compensation is being handled.
“They were using my equipment to pump water, 24 hours a day. Finally it came time I needed to be compensated. So I went to the municipality, because we directly did the original transaction. But they’re tapped out, of course, so they sent me to EMO. They pushed me to DFA. I’m not kidding! DFA sent me to MAFRI. Then I went to MASC. Believe it or not, they sent me back to the municipality. And they paid me there, but you know, they probably don’t have their own compensation for it either, they just felt badly for me and paid it out of pocket.”
While the frustration of trying to stay afloat keeps Olfason busy during the day, it’s fear that keeps him up at night. He cautions we haven’t seen the worst of it yet.
“I’m a commercial fisherman, I know ice. And when that ice comes in, there’s trouble. Ice and water are night and day. Sure, you can hold water back if you build the dike high enough, but ice will just torpedo right through. The ice will blast through those dikes and then the water will go through and do what it does.”