May 25, 2019

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Land cleared without notice, approval: First Nations

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES</p><p>NDP Leader Wab Kinew.</p>

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

NDP Leader Wab Kinew.

Four Manitoba First Nations are accusing the province of infringing on their rights by allowing for the clearing of vegetation along the route of the proposed Lake St. Martin outlet channel without proper environmental approval.

In a letter to three government ministers, dated April 1, the First Nations said they’ve noticed “significant vegetation clearing in the lands between Lake St. Martin and Lake Winnipeg in preparation for the channel.”

They say the clearing is 22 to 24 kilometres long and about 12 metres wide.

“No advance notice of the work was provided to affected First Nations and, to date, no licence or permit authorizing any of this work has been published by the government of Manitoba on its website,” said Karl Zadnik, chief executive officer of the Interlake Reserves Tribal Council, on behalf of Little Saskatchewan, Lake Manitoba, Dauphin River and Kinonjeoshtegon First Nations.

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Four Manitoba First Nations are accusing the province of infringing on their rights by allowing for the clearing of vegetation along the route of the proposed Lake St. Martin outlet channel without proper environmental approval.

In a letter to three government ministers, dated April 1, the First Nations said they’ve noticed "significant vegetation clearing in the lands between Lake St. Martin and Lake Winnipeg in preparation for the channel."

They say the clearing is 22 to 24 kilometres long and about 12 metres wide.

"No advance notice of the work was provided to affected First Nations and, to date, no licence or permit authorizing any of this work has been published by the government of Manitoba on its website," said Karl Zadnik, chief executive officer of the Interlake Reserves Tribal Council, on behalf of Little Saskatchewan, Lake Manitoba, Dauphin River and Kinonjeoshtegon First Nations.

The Lake St. Martin outlet channel is part of a massive $540-million flood mitigation project announced last year designed to reduce flooding around that lake as well as Lake Manitoba. It’s being cost-shared by the federal and provincial governments. The projects are still awaiting full environmental approval.

The First Nations contend the clearing of the right-of-way in preparation for the Lake St. Martin outlet channel, in the absence of the "required" environmental impact statement or approval under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, and in the absence of any notice to them, is "contrary to the law."

"This work and any further work done on the (Lake St. Martin) right-of-way, or other Crown lands needed for the project, has caused and will cause irreparable harm to our member First Nations’ treaty and Aboriginal rights," they said.

They demanded any further work on the lands cease "until such time as the channels project is legally sanctioned to move forward."

In a statement, Infrastructure Minister Ron Schuler noted construction of the outlet channel project has not begun, due to the "lengthy and tedious" regulatory approval process put into place by the federal government.

He said "limited clearing" was needed to facilitate surveys and conduct site investigations for the engineering design of the proposed channel.

"As the right-of-way is on Crown land, approval from (the) Sustainable Development (department) was provided," he said.

He said a brush-clearing contract was issued to Hartman Construction after a competitive bidding process.

A spokesman for Schuler later said the communities were notified in December "via written correspondence" about the work.

NDP Leader Wab Kinew said he has serious concerns the outlet project "is not moving ahead in the right kind of way."

The letter raises questions about whether proper approvals were given for the preliminary work, he said. However, Kinew added the broader issue it raises is the First Nations do not feel like they’re being adequately consulted or informed about the project.

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

Larry Kusch

Larry Kusch
Legislature Reporter

Larry Kusch didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life until he attended a high school newspaper editor’s workshop in Regina in the summer of 1969 and listened to a university student speak glowingly about the journalism program at Carleton University in Ottawa.

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