The chief of the Tsuu T'ina First Nation says a tentative deal with the province on a southwest Calgary ring road hinges on the support of about 800 members.
After decades of stops and starts in negotiations with the province, Chief Sandford Big Plume said Tuesday the band has reached a draft agreement on allowing part of the road to cross over its land.
The southwest portion, which will run about 20 kilometres, is planned to start at an interchange at Sarcee Trail, Highway 8 and Glenmore Trial. The City of Calgary wants to see the road run though the First Nation's land from Glenmore Trail to 22X on the western edge of Calgary, which would require a land transfer of about four square kilometres to the province.
The tentative agreement confirms a land swap between the province and the band, but no details were released on the new lands that will be gained by the Tsuu T'ina.
About 800 out of 1,600 band members are eligible to vote on the proposal on June 30.
Long-term benefits for band members
Negotiations were complicated because the stretch of land at issue is considered sacred and some of it contains burial grounds, said the chief.
"It's a historical site there where my grandmother was born and she was the last living full-blooded Tsuu T'ina. So I have mixed emotions on it," acknowledged Big Plume, but he said there must also be long-term benefits for band members.
"Being so close to a major urban centre, we have to understand — and we gotta think 100, 120 years from now — where this nation will be and what kind of foundation this is going to leave," said Big Plume.
"What kind of footprint it's going to leave for them. And in today's society, it's all economics, it's all fiscal responsibility, so we want to ensure that we leave a strong economic base for them."
If the Tsuu T'ina ratify the deal, it still requires approval by the federal government, which could take from six months to more than a year.
'Pretty big step'
Neither the band nor the province would disclose terms of the agreement, including whether there was additional money offered to sweeten the deal.
"We pretty well needed that extra land," said Transportation Minister Luc Ouellette in Edmonton on Tuesday. "If you start going within a city and taking houses down and everything else to get your right of way part, I don't think is the real answer either."
'We're not at the stage where we're able to put shovels in the ground this summer or even next summer, but this is a pretty big step.' —Jerry Bellikka, transportation department
Ouellette predicted the earliest the ring road would be complete is 2015.
"We're not at the stage where we're able to put shovels in the ground this summer or even next summer, but this is a pretty big step," said Jerry Bellikka, spokesman for the province's transportation department.
Calgary Ald. Brian Pincott, however, said the city has waited too long already and should be looking at alternatives.
"I think maybe we should start discussing what a Plan B should be," he said.
Earlier this month, the province announced the southeast leg of Calgary's ring road will be completed by 2013.