Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Lake St. Martin talks slated for month's end

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OTTAWA -- The federal and provincial governments are set to finally sit down with officials from Lake St. Martin First Nation next week after more than three months with no discussions on what to do about the flooded-out community.

A spokesman for Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada said a meeting is scheduled for Nov. 28. It was confirmed by a source close to Lake St. Martin, but the community holds little hope the meeting will make any difference.

Lake St. Martin residents have been out of their homes since May 2011 due to flooding. They account for more than half the 2,000 people from six First Nations still unable to return home due to the 2011 floods. That includes 1,068 from Lake St. Martin, 183 from Peguis, 17 from Pinaymootang, 255 from Dauphin River, 102 from Ebb and Flow and 358 from Little Saskatchewan.

Dauphin River residents are the only ones waiting for the signal to return after the road into their community was finally rebuilt. Once electricity and water services are restored, they can likely return home. The rest have no idea when or if they can go home. They are awaiting rebuilt houses, new roads and new dikes and other flood protection.

A recent engineering study suggested it will cost upwards of $50 million to flood-proof the reserves and rebuild or relocate the damaged homes.

Lake St. Martin, one of the worst-hit communities, with most of the homes no longer habitable, is likely years away from a permanent solution. Negotiations have included moving the First Nation to new land bought by the province near the existing reserve or moving to an entirely new location. But no meetings have taken place since mid-August.

Earlier this month, AANDC spokeswoman Ellen Funk said the government was leaving it up to the First Nation whether to pursue the matter through negotiations or through the courts. The First Nation filed a court case in September seeking legal remedies for their situation. In particular, Lake St. Martin officials say the floodwaters were artificially created by the province building structures such as the Portage Diversion, to help protect Winnipeg during floods.

Meanwhile the costs continue to rise. As of last week, Ottawa had spent $66 million on evacuation costs. In August 2011, documents show the federal government expected it would spend about $21 million on evacuations.

Officials hoped Lake St. Martin residents would move to a temporary site near Gypsumville and live in modular homes the province bought, but fewer than one-third of the modular homes are now occupied. Most Lake St. Martin residents refused to move in, fearing it would become permanent.

Documents obtained by the Free Press through access-to-information law show AANDC officials hoped the department could stop paying evacuation allowances once the evacuees moved into the modular homes.

Ottawa did reduce the amount of the allowances as of Nov. 1. Before, each adult evacuee received $23.40 a day and each child $18.70 a day. Now, Ottawa will pay rent or hotel charges, as well as $3.20 a day in living allowances for children and $4 a day for adults.

mia.rabson@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 21, 2012 A7

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