LANDOWNERS, NDP MAKE DAM DEAL
Early Tuesday morning, the Alberta government announced that Transportation Minister Brian Mason would release details about the status of building flood protection for Calgary at an afternoon news conference at McDougall Centre.Like most people, I assumed the government had purchased all of the land and received all regulatory approvals needed to build the Springbank Dry Dam — also known as the Springbank Off-Stream Reservoir or SR1.But, with Alberta just weeks away from a provincial election, Mason made a special visit to Calgary to make a much less significant announcement: that the province has purchased an additional 12 per cent of the land needed for the project from the Robinson family — one of the largest thorns in the government’s side until now.So slow has been the progress on SR1 that this modest announcement was viewed with the kind of sincere relief one expects from a person dying of thirst who stumbles upon an oasis in the middle of the desert.“This is dam good news,” said Greg Clark, the Alberta Party MLA for Calgary-Elbow — arguably the hardest hit of the Calgary ridings in the 2013 flood. Crumbs to a starving man can look like a feast.Mason announced that the province purchased 188 hectares of land from the Robinson family for the 1,566-hectare dam — which will not store water but divert flood waters via huge concrete spillways into a low-lying basin that will include movable dam walls. Eight per cent of the land needed had already been acquired by the province, meaning that 20 per cent is now in government hands.“I know it’s a very hard decision,” for the Robinson family, said Mason. “And we know that this project is affecting some families that have deep roots in that community and I really regret the fact that we need this land, but we need this land,” said Mason. “It’s a very important project for a million plus Calgarians and if there was an alternative that I thought would provide that level of protection and do so in a timely way, I would have taken that. So it’s unfortunate, but it’s absolutely necessary in my view.”When asked how much the province paid for the Robinson family land, Mason would only say the government paid “market value.” He would not clarify if it was market value for rural land or if it was valued like the pricey Springbank land farther east that is used for mansion-like acreage homes and swanky subdivisions on the western edge of Calgary.“I’ve been asked not to talk about actual numbers and prices because we don’t want disclosure of that information to affect negotiations with other landowners,” said the minister.“We’ve been very clear that we are open to negotiate with all of the landowners to arrive at a fair price for their land and once we have obtained regulatory approval we wish to finalize those negotiations fairly quickly, and if we’re unable to do it by that time then we will move to expropriate the land,” he added.Brenda Leeds Binder, co-president of the Calgary River Communities Action Group, who was present for the announcement along with the group’s other co-president, Tony Morris, said Calgarians “can breathe a small sigh of relief as this is a big step forward on getting protection on the Elbow River, and we need to recognize the sacrifice of the Robinson family in arriving at this decision to voluntarily sell their land to the government and to support this project. That’s certainly admirable of that family.”Morris also wanted to thank the NDP for bringing the former Jim Prentice government’s plan forward, even though during the 2015 provincial election they were opposed to SR1.“They did their own independent study and took the steps necessary to come to the right scientific conclusion on this project to protect this city that has this inherent birth defect that has never been addressed,” said Morris. “So we’re very happy and relieved that this important step has been taken.”Happy and relieved does not describe the feelings of the other heritage landowners who will be affected by the dam. Some were tight-lipped about the Robinsons’ land sale, others were measured in their response and still others — while speaking off the record — said they feel like they have been “thrown under the bus” by the family that was the driving force behind the vocal DontDamnSpringbank.org group.Tsuut’ina First Nation Chief Lee Crowchild said while he wanted to express his understanding for the Robinsons “who have become close friends with many Tsuut’ina people, in no small part because of our shared opposition to the proposed Springbank dam,” the nation, which has land just 300 metres from the outer footprint of the dry dam, remains opposed to the project.“Let me be clear, this announcement in no way changes the policy debate around the proposed dam or its certain impact in our Nation. This project has not received regulatory approval, and Tsuut’ina has not consented to it. Tsuut’ina’s position has not changed,” Crowchild said in a written statement.With the NDP working hard to make favourable announcements before calling this spring’s election, now is likely the best time landowners will ever have for negotiating. If anyone is desperate for a deal, it’s the NDP.
Rancher John Robinson, with his son Ryan and granddaughter Samantha, had opposed the NDP plan for the Springbank dam.
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