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Flood Response Team Wins Amethyst

The 49th Parallel Storm of 2002 was widely recognized as the worst storm to hit Ontario's Northwestern Region (NWR) in over 100 years. A downpour that began on June 9, 2002, flooded nearly 15,000 square kilometers of provincial territory, disrupting communications, damaging roadways and flooding key travel routes. As more than ten municipalities were declared disaster areas, MTO's Flood Response Team worked tirelessly to provide emergency relief and restore the devastated highway infrastructure. The NWR Response Team, whose efforts led to the safe and efficient management of this crisis, were recently awarded a 2002 Amethyst Award in recognition of their service to a public in need.

The April 21st, 2004, Amethyst Award ceremony took place at Toronto's Winter Garden Theatre. Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty and Cabinet Secretary Tony Dean presented the award to four MTO field coordinators representing the Response Team: Doug Flegel, Randy Noga, Doug McIntyre and Toby Vennechenko.

"The dedicated efforts of our field coordinators were outstanding," said Carl Hennum, MTO Assistant Deputy Minister of Operations. "Their work and personal sacrifices exemplified both the government's and individual public servant's ability to deal effectively and compassionately with major disasters."

The 49th Parallel Storm caused extensive flooding in the Fort Frances, Atikokan, Kenora, Rainy River, and Dryden areas. The storm produced more than 300mm of rainfall over a three-day period, impacting the region's social and economic infrastructure. Thirteen provincial highways, spanning more than 1000 km, were cut off by washouts and rising floodwaters. Highway closures caused the costly redirection of commercial and public traffic routes. Communities became increasingly isolated as storm conditions cut power and telecommunications lines; many beaver dams, culverts and bridges were destroyed; water and sewage systems flooded, and several motorists and tourists became stranded as rising rivers flooded highways.

The Ministry reacted immediately to the crisis, organizing a dedicated effort from a large cross-section of government employees in Northwestern Ontario. More than 50 members of the Response Team coordinated efforts to assess damages, repair roads and bridges, reopen highways, rescue trapped tourists, restore communications, and provide guidance to travelers. The highway network was restored in a timely manner. There were constant information exchanges with the Ontario Provincial Police to coordinate safe road management.

The relief efforts directed by the four representing field coordinators exemplify the dedication and achievement of the entire Flood Response Team.

Toby Vennechenko, Emo Maintenance Coordinator, supervised over 100 staff and 80 pieces of equipment at the height of the crisis. His team successfully and swiftly re-opened highways, addressed public safety concerns and restored washed-out culverts and roads.

"I was truly impressed with the dedication of my staff," said Vennechenko. "They put in extremely long days and worked several weekends without any time off."

Nickle Lake Maintenance Coordinator Doug McIntyre demonstrated incredible resourcefulness by directing several relief projects via satellite telephone from an area isolated by a washout at Price Creek. McIntyre and his staff organized contractors to open flooded roads, ordered and distributed equipment, and managed repair vehicles at various locations.

Bridge and Facilities Services Coordinator Randy Noga oversaw the construction of a temporary bailey bridge over a washed-out section of Highway 11 at Price Creek. Noga motivated his staff through long hours, severe weather and an 8-day construction period, completing the bridge and re-opening this key transportation link in record time.

Doug Flegel, Thunder Bay District Electrical Services Coordinator, assembled, maintained and ensured the operation of new solar-powered traffic signals and variable message signs installed at the Highway 11 bridge site. Flegel dedicated countless hours to the project and dealt with multiple equipment failures.

"I would like to recognize and extend immense appreciation to more than 100 unsung heroes in MTO's Northwestern Region who worked diligently behind the scenes," expressed Regional Director Larry Lambert. "These dedicated public servants worked without fanfare to order materials, negotiate with contractors, monitor weather, repair vehicles, and respond to phone calls from flood-affected residents and other public bodies."

The Flood Response Team's commendable relief efforts demonstrate the Ministry's incredible devotion to public service in times of crisis.

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