Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

First Nation's evacuees get Gypsumville deadline

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OTTAWA -- Evacuees from Lake St. Martin will only have a few more weeks to move into modular homes near Gypsumville before the province starts offering the homes to others.

Eric Robinson, Manitoba's aboriginal affairs minister, said Wednesday a letter was sent to Lake St. Martin officials and evacuees this week asking everyone who applied to move into one of the modular homes bought by the province earlier this year to indicate by Dec. 15 when they plan to actually move in.

After Dec. 15, the homes will be offered to other First Nations, he said.

Flooding has forced more than 1,000 members of Lake St. Martin First Nation from their community since spring 2011. Last February, the province bought 60 modular homes, set them up and furnished them on a former radar base near Gypsumville. It was hoped the evacuees would move into the homes rather than remain in hotels or living in limbo with relatives.

Nine months later, only 13 families have taken advantage of the offer, so most of the homes, ranging in size from two to five bedrooms, have sat empty.

Robinson said with 1,000 other evacuees also looking for houses, he can't let the modular homes sit empty any longer.

"We're still in a bit of a crisis here," he said. "We need to occupy those homes."

The houses cost an average of $200,000 each.

Many Lake St. Martin residents did not want to go to the Gypsumville site, fearing it would become their permanent home. There was also some concern it would end federal disaster assistance payments to evacuees.

Ottawa has spent $66 million on accommodation and living allowances for thousands of evacuees from First Nations due to the 2011 flood. Nearly 2,000 from six reserves remain in limbo and don't know when they can return home.

Robinson said the modular homes could be moved to some of the other communities if that is requested. He said Little Saskatchewan First Nation has expressed some interest in acquiring them.

mia.rabson@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 22, 2012 A7

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