'This is not a NIMBY issue': Springbank dam opponents ask UCP to reconsider plan

Karin Hunter, president of the Springbank Community Association, says the new United Conservative Party government maybe didn't have "the best start" with opponents of the Springbank dam.

Community association held town hall to outline concerns with flood mitigation project

Karin Hunter, president of the Springbank Community Association, is against the Springbank dam project. (Julie Debeljak/CBC)

Karin Hunter, president of the Springbank Community Association, says the new United Conservative Party government maybe didn't have "the best start" with opponents of the Springbank dam.

Last week, the government hired a lawyer to try to expedite construction of the dry dam, which is intended to protect Calgarians from a flood like the one that devastated the city and nearby communities in 2013.

On Tuesday, the community association held a town hall session to outline its concerns with the project and call on the government to change course, handing out letters to attendees addressed to Premier Jason Kenney.

"I'm cautiously optimistic that there will be a change and there will be some true consultation with our community," Hunter said.

Hunter said there hasn't been enough consultation on the project and that alternatives have not been fairly assessed. She said she's asking the government to remedy what she called a "flawed process" so far.

"We think the government rushed through the process steps, skipping a few steps, I think happily, in order to get some flood mitigation for Calgary," she said.

"This is not a NIMBY issue," she added saying the dry dam would not protect the nearby communities of Redwood Meadows, Bragg Creek and the Tsuut'ina First Nation. The reinforced river berms planned for those communities will not protect against rising groundwater, which caused most of the damage in the 2013 flood, she said. 

'Ready to fight'

Tsuut'ina Chief Lee Crowchild said the UCP didn't inform the First Nation that a lawyer was being brought in to expedite the project.

"Governments are always interesting animals to deal with," he said.

"We're quite ready to fight."

So far, the government has acquired about 20 per cent of the 3,870 acres of land needed for the $432-million project.

When completed, the dry dam could fill with up to 70.2 million cubic metres of water from a swollen Elbow River, protecting communities downstream.

Rancher Mary Robinson said her family has occupied land in the region for five generations — land that could all be underwater if the proposal goes ahead.

"It takes away our heritage, our homes, and our businesses," she said. 

Robinson said she was disappointed by the UCP government's decision to expedite the project.

"Springbank project is only going to help one small community and that's the downtown city of Calgary, or the people in Elbow Park and Roxboro. It's not going to be all of the other people and so it's a very selfish decision to just do Springbank," she said.

The 2013 disaster in southern Alberta killed five people, saw 70,000 flee their homes and caused billions of dollars in damage. 

A rendering of what the diversion channel for the Springbank reservoir would look like. (Alberta Transportation/YouTube)

Opponents have called on the government to consider a dam in McLean Creek, instead, which could help control river levels.

But that proposal was rejected, with the previous government saying it would both have a greater environmental impact and come with a high risk of failure if there was a high-river event during construction.

The Springbank dam is currently under review by the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, Alberta Environment and Parks and the Natural Resources Conservation Board.

The UCP has said it's committed to finishing the required consultations with local landowners, and will expedite construction once the project is approved.

With files from Scott Dippel