Ring road deal included escape clause for Tsuu T'ina

A proposed deal between the Alberta government and the Tsuu T'ina First Nation could have rerouted both the Elbow River and Fish Creek on the reserve land.

Draft agreement can still be saved, says band's chief

Chief Sandford Big Plume of the Tsuu T'ina First Nation gestures during a news conference on Wednesday. ((CBC))

A proposed deal between the Alberta government and the Tsuu T'ina First Nation could have rerouted both the Elbow River and Fish Creek on the reserve land.

The draft agreement, publicly released by the province on its website this week, reveals previously unknown details of a land and cash deal between the government and the band that took decades to negotiate.

The province needed 400 hectares of reserve land in order to build the southwest portion of Calgary's ring road, designed to relieve traffic congestion in the city. In exchange, the band would have received $275 million and up to 2,000 hectares of Crown land.

However, the majority of band members who voted in a referendum on June 30 rejected the proposal.

Read the  proposed final agreement between the Tsuu T’ina First Nation and the Government of Alberta for southwest Calgary ring-road lands.

On Wednesday, Tsuu T'ina Chief Sandford Big Plume held his first news conference since that decision, explaining that he and his council needed time to analyze the outcome.

The terms of the land swap created doubt in voters' minds, he said.

"The agreement spoke of a land swap, but that unfortunately was not guaranteed in the agreement. The agreement only called on the province to make a reasonable effort to secure additional lands."

The 43-page agreement included a clause that if the province failed to provide Crown land as promised, either side could nullify the deal with 60 days written notice.

However, the band was also given the option of proceeding with it in exchange for compensation for that loss of land.

Proposal included provisions for LRT

The chief, who endorsed the proposal, said he was surprised band members turned down the deal and rejected suggestions it was because the amount of money offered was insufficient.

"Our land is like a life preserver. We cling hard to it and the prospect of losing land was again too difficult for many members," said Big Plume.

The draft deal included a section that would have given the province the right to "facilitate":

  • Realignment of the Elbow River.
  • Realignment of Fish Creek.
  • Relocation of the Weaselhead Road.
  • Relocation of access to the Seven Chiefs Sportsplex.
  • Relocation of the Enmax substation.

The agreement also includes provisions for the province to use the land for "transportation purposes" including construction, operation or repair of  "a light rail transit system … including but not limited to transit stations and parking areas."

The province wanted to build the southwest portion of the ring road through Tsuu T'ina land.

Big Plume said on Wednesday that he's holding out hope a deal can still be reached with the province.

"I believe there is yet hope for a deal. I believe that if we are able to craft an agreement that creates certainty about the land swap and other key elements of the deal,… [we can] confirm that very deal that the premier and I made."

The province has spent decades and reportedly millions of dollars in negotiations with the band.

Both Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach and Calgary Mayor Dave Bronconnier have said they're not interested in any new deal with the Tsuu T'ina and that they're looking at alternate routes for the southwest ring road.

"The greater part of the nation voted it down so that's to me saying pretty loud and clear that they didn't want the deal," said Alberta Transportation Minister Luke Ouellette on Wednesday.

Chief blames province for not living up to agreement

Meanwhile, Big Plume said that the ball is in the province's court.

"I was the one who lived up to that agreement, all the aspects of that agreement; they didn't," he said. "They came back with language that was inappropriate, that we feel did not guarantee us what we needed.

"My duty is to Tsuu T'ina, its people, especially its young people, their future."

The 20-kilometre southwest portion of the proposed road was planned to start at an interchange at Sarcee Trail, Highway 8 and Glenmore Trail.

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.

Big Plume said tweaking the draft agreement is the quickest way to complete the ring road by 2015, which is the province's target deadline.