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Manitoba blows off dynamite as a solution to ice jams

Last Updated: Tuesday, March 31, 2009 | 12:18 PM CT

Ice jams are creating havoc for properties north of Winnipeg, and there is concern they will also form within city limits. Ice jams are creating havoc for properties north of Winnipeg, and there is concern they will also form within city limits. (CBC)

The Manitoba government has rejected using dynamite as a way to break up massive ice jams on the Red River.

Last week, in North Dakota, explosives were used to blow a large chunk of ice from the river. But Manitoba emergency officials say the practice is dangerous and ineffective.

Ron Elliott, vice-president of Pacific Blasting and Demolition Ltd., based in Burnaby, B.C., said dynamite works best on even sheets of ice, not chunks of broken and fused ice like those that have formed on most of the Red River.

'The charge simply creates a circular impact in the ice. It does not create a channel in the ice [for the river to start flowing again].'—Steve Topping, Manitoba Water Stewardship

"You may not have the time to be out there trying to drill holes through the ice if anything starts to move," he said.

Steve Topping, spokesperson for Manitoba Water Stewardship, said the only way to set a charge on those ice jams is to suspend someone from a helicopter. Not only is that too dangerous; it likely won't work.

"The charge simply creates a circular impact in the ice. It does not create a channel in the ice [for the river to start flowing again]," he said.

North of Winnipeg, ice jams have been causing trouble for property owners near the riverbank. The jams act like dams, clogging the river and causing the water to back up, spilling over the banks.

Nearly 40 homes have been flooded because of that, or because surface water has been unable to drain through frozen culverts.

Four possible ice jams have been identified within city limits: at the South Perimeter Bridge, Kingston Crescent, the Louise Bridge and the Redwood Bridge.

If the province wants to use explosives, it first needs permission from the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans. And it would have to prove the existence of an imminent threat to public health and safety, or property, said Darryl Chudobiak, an official with the Fisheries Department.

In addition, the provincial government would also have to come up with a plan to deal with the damage done to fish habitat, he said.

Requests to use explosives in situations like the one in Winnipeg are rare, and no requests have been by the Manitoba government, Chudobiak added.

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