LANDOWN­ERS, NDP MAKE DAM DEAL

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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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