Business owners and concerned citizens gathered at the south end of Morris Thursday, to raise concerns about the closure of Highway 75 due to flooding.
Lorne Hamblin, who farms in the area, organized the press conference.
"I was delivering seed to two miles south of St. Jean and it took me an hour and a half to go around," he said. "When I was travelling I had the radio on and Premier Stefanson was flying over the flooded area of the Whiteshell, which is very serious as well, but I thought they should know that this closure of this highway was unnecessary and very hard on the citizens, on the community, and on the business community."
Hamblin says the closure is impacting many farmers, who are already dealing with a very late spring. He wants to see Highway 75 reopened as soon as possible for 2 lane traffic with 4 lanes opening as time allows.
The hospitality industry in Morris has also been hit hard by the highway closure.
"We've seen worse than the pandemic ever hit us in the last two years," said Taso Simeonidis, one of the owners of Santa Lucia Pizza. "There's loans coming up that are owed to the federal government that they helped us out with, around $40,000. That has to be repaid in December and with this highway shutting down, it really hit us hard. It's going to be very difficult to come up with that kind of money by December. What we would like is if somehow we can get that pushed back a couple more years or some of it pardoned or something. We need some help. There's already been restaurants that have shut down in Morris due to this situation."
In addition, local trucking companies are incurring many extra miles which is impacting their business.
"It affects the morale and it affects the bottom line," commented Chester Bartel with Bartel Bulk Freight. "Our employees that are from out of the community have to drive, what normally is a 45 minute drive, is now an hour plus long and they're asking who pays for their gas. Every load gets that tacked on and I don't feel that the customers are to blame for this. We need to be able to get out of our yard and be able to do it efficiently. We can't compete against other trucking companies. They have got a huge advantage over us."
Morris Bigway owner Pat Schmitke says he still sees people in the store who live out of town, but notes it's a big inconvenience for them.
"The impact on the business is negative for sure. Our sales are down, people from the south, the west, they can't get to us when the roads are closed so it provides a challenge for us. It's especially disappointing when you can stand on Highway 75 and it's dry and it's clear and it's still closed and people can't use it. It's a really big challenge and it hurts our community."
Highway 75 at the south end of Morris has been closed for about a month. Traffic is currently being detoured on Highway 23 to the east.