Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

No end to evacuation soon

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IF there is an end to the evacuation of Lake St. Martin First Nation due to flooding, it certainly isn't within sight.

The reserve near Gypsumville has been almost entirely vacant since the spring of 2011 when floodwaters from the lake of the same name forced residents from their homes.

Repeated floods -- which residents contend were man-made from provincial structures such as the Portage Diversion to protect Winnipeg from flooding -- have damaged more than 80 per cent of the homes beyond repair. More than 1,000 people from Lake St. Martin are living in hotels or rentals in Winnipeg and elsewhere, awaiting a solution.

Disputes between band officials and the federal and provincial governments have left an impasse in efforts to relocate or return residents to their homes.

There are a number of potential options including relocating to higher ground on land the province purchased near the existing reserve, which thus far the community has refused.

They could relocate to an entirely new site about 50 kilometres south but that negotiation is stalled.

Also, an engineering study to look at long-term flood-mitigation possibilities on the existing reserve was recently completed, which could show whether the community can be saved in its current location.

Efforts to temporarily set up most Lake St. Martin families in modular homes near Gypsumville have mostly failed, as only 13 of 60 homes purchased and furnished by the province are occupied. Many residents feared moving there would become a permanent fix and refused.

The provincial and federal governments recently reduced the living allowances paid to evacuees. Until Nov. 1, adult evacuees received $23.40 a day and children $18.70 a day, to cover living costs associated with being out of their homes. Now they receive $4 a day for adults and $3.20 a day for children, as well as rent.

The governments indicated this cut is normal because the situation has gone from an emergency to a long-term recovery, however, critics say the governments are playing hardball.

In addition to Lake St. Martin, there are more than 1,000 evacuees from four other First Nations, including Little Saskatchewan, Pinaymootang, Peguis, Ebb and Flow and Dauphin River.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 6, 2012 A3

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