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This article was published 3/12/2011 (2848 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
THE province will bypass the Lake St. Martin chief and deal directly with evacuees from the flooded First Nation to finally get them relocated.
The latest development in the saga comes after Lake St. Martin’s chief walked away from a relocation plan. That happened when the province rejected a bid from a company he leads to build houses at the site of an old radar base in Gypsumville, about 260 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg.
The province isn’t willing to wait any longer to move nearly 700 flood evacuees, stuck in hotel rooms since early May, Manitoba Aboriginal Affairs Minister Eric Robinson said Friday.
The province is turning directly to Lake St. Martin evacuees to get the move going.
"Already, we have people who have signed up to move to the interim village," Robinson said.
If the people want houses outside Gypsumville, it’s up to them to say so, he said.
The first chance will be at a community gathering with a feast, set for Monday at 5:30 p.m.
at the Indian and Métis Friendship Centre, 45 Robinson St. Buses will pick up evacuees from six city hotels for the event.
The sign-up may be just a formality, despite Lake St. Martin Chief Adrian Sinclair’s opposition to the plan.
Nearly all evacuees — 157 households of 522 people — signed up by Nov. 10 for the province’s plan for a temporary village with 170 trailer homes and a school. The temporary site is estimated to cost about $40 million, including the purchase of the radar base late this summer.
"The community members had looked at the site and some people placed stakes with their names where they wanted their homes," Robinson said.
The province expects the first of the families to move by February. A spokeswoman for federal Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan said Ottawa supports Manitoba’s plan. "We understand that the province has decided to continue to develop the interim site at the old radar base as an alternative to current accommodations, and that as a first priority, the province will make the new homes to be placed on the site available to Lake St. Martin evacuees who wish to move there as an interim measure," said Michelle Yao in a written statement.
Outside his office, Robinson refused to be drawn into the bidding battle. Instead, he referred repeatedly to a deal the province signed in August with Lake St. Martin to move to the former radar base.
It’s too late for the chief to change his mind, Robinson said.
"He was the one who approved the interim location at the old Gypsumville radar base," the minister told reporters outside his legislative building office.
It’s not the first time Robinson has expressed impatience with the slow pace of talks with the flood victims’ leaders. The tension flared again Friday.
"I’ve demonstrated that I’m not a guy to be told by anybody who I should or should not be talking to. We owe it to the citizens of Lake St. Martin who’ve been in hotel rooms for these last several months now."
The province confirmed earlier Friday it gave the housing bid to another builder after the First Nations bid failed to meet provincial standards.
It didn’t show a community ownership or trust arrangement. There was no health or safety program and the bid was too high, the province said by email before Robinson made his remarks.
Sinclair denied allegations he and his four-member council stood to profit personally from the venture.
They didn’t pull the plug on the base out of spite, Sinclair said.
They worry the province is dumping evacuees at the base without guaranteeing plans for a permanent reserve.
Documents obtained by the Free Press Friday show a joint venture company, Lake St. Martin First Nation Inc., was registered in Manitoba Oct. 31, with Sinclair listed as a codirector.
A week later, all four councillors were added as directors under an additional resolution of the shareholders. It limited the directors’ terms to one year or as long as they remained in office. It showed neither the chief nor the council had signing authority to write cheques or withdraw funds.
A 60-40 profit split was set up with the First Nation through the chief and council and a council of elders, according to a copy of a draft bid proposal to the province. It "envisioned" profits for community development.
A silent partner was made the minority shareholder and he agreed to not withdraw his 40 per cent profits for a minimum of two years.
Alexandra is a veteran news reporter who has covered stories for the Winnipeg Free Press since 1987. She held the medical beat for nearly 17 years, and today specializes in coverage of Indigenous-related issues. She is among the most versatile journalists on the paper’s staff.