Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
Lake St. Martin strikes deal
Feds, province pledge extra cash for chronic flooding
Lake St. Martin First Nation reached a deal with Ottawa and the province Wednesday that its chief hopes will mean new homes on drier ground.
And three other First Nations in the Interlake will receive extra help for chronic overland flooding related to the diversion of flood waters from Lake Manitoba.
Lake St. Martin, Little Saskatchewan, Pinaymootang and Dauphin River will receive help with flood mitigation, compensation, repair and replacement of homes over and above the $21 million Ottawa has already spent on dikes, sandbags and evacuations on Manitoba First Nations this spring.
The federal government is also working on another deal to help Peguis, another Interlake First Nation where hundreds left their homes when the Fisher River jumped its banks.
In Ottawa, John Duncan, the minister of aboriginal affairs and northern development, said the federal commitment reflects the severity of Manitoba's flooding.
"Our government is committed to working with the leadership of Lake St. Martin, the province of Manitoba and other First Nations in the area to ensure the safety of residents and the protection of property in the communities," Duncan said in a statement Wednesday.
Duncan also committed the federal government to work closely with the province on long-term solutions for the four Interlake First Nations.
People living on Manitoba First Nations have been among the hardest hit during this spring's flooding, accounting for more than 1,000 of the 3,000 Manitoba residents evacuated by flood waters this spring.
"It's a unique situation we're dealing with and the important point is we're taking the first step in correcting a half century of wrongs at Lake St. Martin," said Manitoba Aboriginal and Northern Affairs Minister Eric Robinson.
Robinson said the Fairford Water Control Structure creates chronic flooding at Lake St. Martin, Pinaymootang and Little Saskatchewan and has cut off Dauphin River First Nation's access to Highway 513 and threatens the livelihoods of up to 80 commercial fishers.
The province pledged earlier this month to study health and housing problems at Lake St. Martin that are the result of chronic flooding, an effort Ottawa promised to help fund Wednesday. That study will be expanded to include flood-related mitigation measures for the other three First Nations.
Robinson said there's an added urgency to discussions because of the toll the flood and the evacuations are taking on evacuees.
In recent weeks, there have been one suicide and two attempted suicides among Lake St. Martin evacuees in Winnipeg.
"I've seen the strain on them, these are band members in an unfamiliar environment, living in an urban setting," Robinson said. "These people need to be relocated."
Lake St. Martin Chief Adrian Sinclair said the First Nation is more hopeful than ever that the joint agreement means there will be both temporary and long-term relief.
"First, we want to thank the Government of Manitoba, the premier and Minister Eric Robinson for accepting the proposal advanced by Lake St. Martin for an immediate response to the urgent crisis which we face," Sinclair said Wednesday in a statement.
Sinclair estimates 190 of Lake St. Martin's 210 homes will be uninhabitable after its flood waters subside.
"Now, it is good news that the federal government has agreed to join those discussions and negotiations. We hope Minister (John) Duncan understands the urgency of meeting immediately to convert his commitment into reality," Sinclair said.
One option under discussion is to set up temporary housing for evacuees, possibly in trailers near Gypsumville on Highway 6. The evacuees will be unable to go home to Lake St. Martin because flood waters there won't peak until July.
The long-term solution may be to relocate Lake St. Martin to new land.
The federal and provincial governments announced a joint fund for First Nations evacuees and promised to find permanent solutions for four First Nations affected by chronic Interlake flooding.
The four First Nations to benefit are Lake St. Martin, Little Saskatchewan, Pinaymootang and Dauphin River.
The deal covers dikes and pumps, temporary housing and a commitment to replace or repair homes damaged by rising flood waters. It also includes restoring road access to Dauphin River, and an apprentice training program for housing trades at Lake St. Martin.
Both levels of government will share costs for a study to determine whether Lake St. Martin's present location is viable.
The study will also assess long-term flood-mitigation alternatives for the other three First Nations.
Compensation for the four First Nations are to be negotiated through a formal tripartite agreement on flooding and damages related to the Fairford Water Control Structure.
The announcement comes a day after Manitoba promised flood money will flow to property owners within weeks from a $175-million compensation package.
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 26, 2011 A6
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