Province didn't consult with Tsuut'ina Nation on Springbank dry dam, chief alleges

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Province didn't consult with Tsuut'ina Nation on Springbank dry dam, chief alleges

They don't agree on whether past consultations have taken place, but both the provincial government and Tsuut'ina Nation do agree future consultations are urgently needed around the Springbank dry dam flood mitigation project.

Tsuut'ina Nation Chief Lee Crowchild insisted Thursday on The Calgary Eyeopener there has been no consultation with band officials, "nor was there any consent given by us" about the dam — which would occupy 3,610 acres of land in Springbank, Alta., and would see gates upstream of Calgary divert water during flooding into a canal that would lead to surrounding land.

"I don't think they've really talked with the people of the land close enough," Crowchild said. "We weren't really consulted on anything, nor have we given our consent that it's an OK project. It's just gone ahead."

On Wednesday, the First Nation released a statement saying the province has a legal obligation to "assess the potential impacts on First Nation land."

'Surprising and disappointing,' says minister

Minister of Infrastructure and Transportation Brian Mason called Crowchild's comments "surprising and disappointing," as both the current and previous governments have held numerous meetings and site visits with band officials around the project since 2014.

Mason said his records show officials with the previous provincial government met with Tsuut'ina Nation officials at the band office on Nov. 13, 2014 and he also met with former chief Roy Whitney in his legislature office on May 10, 2016 to discuss the project.

A government consultant also made eight site visits with Tsuut'ina Nation representatives between Oct. 12 and 28, 2016, said Mason.

Mason said he has asked for a meeting with Crowchild to clear the air.

"We're hoping that can take place very quickly and we can continue a process of engagement. That's our wish," he said.

"I think there's lots to discuss. We want to hear their views because we think this project is critical to protect Calgary from a repeat of the 2013 flooding and we have very much committed to doing that and we would like to satisfy the concerns of the Tsuut'ina people."

Crowchild open to meeting with province

Tsuut'ina Nation spokesman Kevin Littlelight said Crowchild is open to a meeting.

"He's very optimistic," he said. "The feeling I got from Chief Crowchild is this is what makes Alberta and Canada great, that two parties that are in somewhat of a disagreement are willing to sit down. It's mutual respect when you start doing that."

Crowchild said the band learned of the current plan for the Springbank dry dam when they attended a meeting with affected landowners.

"The only we way found out is we actually walked into a meeting, the province was meeting with some of the landholders ... so we thought that we should go and listen in, and when we did, the bureaucrats at that time from the province, they just got up and walked out," said Crowchild.

That meeting took place on Dec. 19, 2016. Crowchild added that he's spoken with former chief Whitney, who told him the previous PC government didn't consult the First Nation either.

A one-year environmental impact assessment on the project is expected to be completed by the end of the month, with a report due in early summer.

"I think that is going to shed a lot of light on the project and I think it will give all sides an opportunity for a little bit more informed discussion, to get some of that analysis and research out."

NDP 'flip-flop'

Back when the NDP was campaigning, Crowchild said the party favoured the McLean Creek option for flood mitigation.

"Once they got in they flip-flopped on that idea," Crowchild said. "They still never talked with the nation at all."

He said he wants to see a better dialog between the province and the First Nation.

Mason said the Springbank option is the best available.

"There was an independent, scientific consultant that looked at both of them and they found that Springbank was equal to McLean Creek and superior in most respects, and there are significant issues with McLean Creek, especially around environmental issues."

Mason said the current plan calls for the Springbank dry dam project to be completed by 2020.

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener