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First Nation gets $32-million grant after it stops opposing dam near Calgary


CALGARY — A First Nation says it has ended its opposition to a proposed reservoir that would protect Calgary during flooding because it secured a $32-million grant from the Alberta government.

The money is to be used for flood mitigation, restoration and prevention.

The Tsuut'ina Nation's chief and council said in a statement posted to its Facebook page this week that concerns about the $432-million Springbank Off-Stream Reservoir remain on the record.

"We have not given up on our inherent treaty rights and we have not given up our rights to water," they said.

The First Nation's leadership planned to discuss the matter with community members, but a meeting could not be held because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The project would help protect the city of Calgary from a repeat of destructive 2013 floods by diverting water from the Elbow River to a reservoir that could hold the equivalent of 28,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools. The water would be channelled back into the river when a flood subsided.

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi said the project, which is waiting for a regulatory green light, is essential.

"I'll say to the province of Alberta, 'Thank you for doing everything you can to clear whatever barriers remain in the way to get that built,' " he said Tuesday.

"I'll say to the government of Canada, 'I know you're very busy, but man oh man, that environmental assessment is very late. We need that approval and we need it quickly.' "

The reservoir has faced stiff opposition from some landowners, who would prefer another site further upstream so as not to affect their properties.

The Alberta government said in September it had acquired about 20 per cent of the land it needed to build the dam.

The Tsuut'ina statement notes its grant does not depend on environmental approval for the project.

The First Nation wrote to provincial and federal regulators earlier this month to say it was withdrawing its objections and would no longer take part in the environmental review.

Gord Olsen, a spokesman for the Tsuut'ina Nation, said concerns the community shared with other stakeholders will still be dealt with.

"There are, as I understand it, a number of issues that are still before that (review) panel that will need to be reviewed and reported upon in the course of their work."

A spokeswoman for the Alberta Ministry of Transportation said the provincial government is pleased it reached an agreement. 

"We will continue to consult with our First Nations partners and impacted communities to address their concerns."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 28, 2020

— With files from Donna Spencer in Calgary

Lauren Krugel, The Canadian Press

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