Sask. gov't and Quill Lakes group 'conspired to fast-track' diversion project: First Nation chief
'This case is not over by a long shot,' says Chief Matthew Todd Peigan of Pasqua First Nation
The chief of the Pasqua First Nation has responded with equal parts exasperation and suspicion to news that a controversial plan to redirect Quill Lakes-area water to Last Mountain Lake has apparently been called off.
The sudden yanking of the plan by the Quill Lakes Watershed Association Monday came just hours after CBC News reported private exchanges between the QLWA and Saskatchewan's Ministry of Environment.
A University of Saskatchewan law professor deemed the emails inappropriately "cozy" given the government's position as the regulator of the project.
Chief Matthew Todd Peigan of the Pasqua First Nation agrees.
"We are very concerned about the dishonourable way in which the minister and Water Security Agency worked behind the scenes, in an apparently biased manner, to help QLWA avoid doing an environmental assessment for this project," said Peigan in a blistering statement issued Wednesday.
- Click here for the full statement.
"Both the QLWA and the minister conspired to fast-track this project and do an end run around the normal environmental safeguards."
'Not over by a long shot'
The Pasqua First Nation was scheduled to argue in a Regina courtroom Tuesday why an injunction should have been ordered to halt any progress of the project.
The First Nation ultimately wanted an environmental assessment — which was nixed by the province — to be done first.
The Pasqua own and use land near Last Mountain Lake and are worried about the quality of water — particularly the level of salinity and agricultural chemicals — that will end up in the lake.
But Monday's surprise QLWA pull-out, while ultimately cancelling the court hearing, still leaves the association's future plans unclear.
"The association will continue to seek a managed solution to protect or minimize future damages due to flooding and follow all necessary regulatory steps," reads its release.
Kerry Holderness, the chairman of the Quill Lakes Watershed Association, could not be reached to further elaborate.
"How do we know the withdrawal is genuine and final?" said Peigan.
"How do we know that QLWA is not going to just change their design slightly, for example by moving the discharge point of the project by 10 feet, and call it a different project?"
Given the uncertainty, Peigan wants the issue to remain in court so that a judge can order a guarantee that any future version of the project undergoes an environmental assessment.
"This case is not over by a long shot," he said.
'A 2-day turnaround'
CBC News has also reached out to the Ministry of Environment for its take on the situation.
CBC also reached out to Scott Moe, the Saskatchewan Party leadership candidate who served as environment minister during the period covered in the emails — until just over week before the diversion project was approved by the ministry.
- Scott Moe resigns as environment minister, expected to make Sask. Party leadership bid
- Quill Lakes flooding fix should be based on science, not 'hysteria', say Sask. Party leadership hopefuls
Observers were still reacting to the swift turnabout of events.
Aura Lee MacPherson, a cabin owner downstream of Last Mountain Lake who is part of a network of people concerned about the project, said she attended a presentation Holderness gave this past Saturday.
"The project was a go," she said. But on Monday, after some of the email exchanges were published, "the project is stopped. That was a two-day turnaround."
Flood-wise, now what?
Meanwhile, landowners in the Quill Lakes area face the prospect of an imminent spring runoff without any co-ordinated flood mitigation plan.
William Dodd farms 420 acres in the flood-prone Quill Lakes watershed.
None of his land has been affected by flooding, but he's still disappointed to hear nothing will likely be in place for other farmers this spring.
"I feel that misinformation by individuals and groups around Last Mountain Lake led to this," he said.
"It was clearly lined out at the beginning of the process that it would only be freshwater diversion of water, and not any possible saline or salt water entering the Qu'Appelle chain."
The project called for surface water from Kutawagan Lake and Pel Lake to make its way through a channel to Last Mountain Lake, located about 40 kilometres northwest of Regina.
The project was expected to divert about four to six per cent of the runoff water flowing into the Quill Lakes basin.
Quill Lakes statement from Chief Todd Peigan (PDF KB)
Quill Lakes statement from Chief Todd Peigan (Text KB)CBC is not responsible for 3rd party content