Alberta ends town halls on Springbank dam, pushing for 2019 construction start

The biggest concern the Alberta government has when it comes to the Springbank off-stream reservoir is that it's not being built fast enough, Department of Transportation spokesman Adam Johnson said as the last of the scheduled town halls took place Tuesday

Estimated price tag for the flood mitigation project has now risen to $432M

Dozens showed up to the last information session on Tuesday night at Calgary's First Church of the Nazarene in the southwest. (Sarah Lawrynuik/CBC)

The biggest concern the Alberta government has when it comes to the Springbank off-stream reservoir is that it's not being built fast enough, says department of transportation spokesman Adam Johnson. 

"Getting this project built now will protect [Calgary] in case [2013 flood levels] are seen again. While once in 100 years, once in 200 years gets thrown around, that's over a large geologic scale.There's nothing stopping it from happening in the next five years," he says. 

"So we need to be ready in case that happens." 

At the last of the information sessions being hosted by the province Tuesday night, staff were hoping to correct misinformation and calm concerns with regards to the government's $432-million flood mitigation plan.

The province often sites $372 million as the cost of the project, but that assumes $60 million recouped from the net price tag through the sale of surplus land following the dam's construction. 

The project is to be located about 15 kilometres west of Calgary — south of the Trans-Canada Highway, east of Highway 22 and north of Highway 8.

Rural landowners vs. Calgary homeowners

Throughout the process, there have been consistent objectors to the dry dam.

One Springbank landowner who will be affected by the project said she just wanted people to understand that, often, land is more than just land to those who have lived on it for generations. 

Meanwhile, homeowners impacted by the 2013 Calgary flood are concerned that progress has been so slow. 

"Every year that goes by puts the people who live on the river and the people of Calgary at a huge risk," says Terry Fishman. 

"These people in Springbank should be treated fairly. They should be given market value for their property and treated with respect. But let's get the thing moving and get it built."
The project's timeline and cost estimate was presented to those who attended the open houses. (Government of Alberta)

Lee Drewry, a spokesman for the advocay group Don't Damn Springbank, says the province seems determined to push ahead with the project despite the growing price tag and what he says is mounting evidence that the alternate plan — building a dry dam at the confluence of McLean Creek and the Elbow River — was a better idea.

"They've been selling this for three years," he said. "I think they've got themselves painted in a corner." 

The province's website says the Springbank location for the off-stream reservoir was pursued because research concluded it would cost less, have less of an environmental impact and would take less time to complete than a dam at McLean Creek. 

Earlier this year, a Federal Court judge sided with Don't Damn Springbank, setting aside the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency's (CEAA) decision in 2016 that an assessment of the dam project would be conducted by the agency itself.

The judge said federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna must make the final decision on whether the CEAA reviews the project or whether there should be an independent study.

She subsequently decided in favour of the federal agency conducting its own review, but don't Damn Springbank remains hopeful that the project can still be stopped when the province's Natural Resource Conservation Board examines the proposal in the coming months, Drewry said.

3 main concerns

Johnson, the Alberta Transportation spokesman, said that the province has fielded questions about three main areas of concern: 

1. Will Camp Kiwanis be impacted by the project? 

Yes, roughly 20 per cent of the camp lies on the wrong side of the proposed berm, Johnson says. However, he says some people have stated the camp won't survive, and that is inaccurate. 

"We've taken a really special look at this to make sure that there is still going to be the ability for the camp to operate," Johnson says.

He adds that the camp will continue to have some access to the Elbow River.

2. How many properties are being impacted and potentially expropriated? 

The province has changed how it plans to approach land acquisition for the project, Johnson says, which has led to some confusion. 

The plan requires 1,460 hectares of land, but the province is now prepared to purchase up to 2,750 hectares, so that landowners impacted have the opportunity to sell the entire parcel of land affected, instead of just a slice of it. 

Five homes lie in the demarcated zone, and about 20 landowners will be impacted. Individual negotiations have not yet begun. 
The province requires the land inside the black contour but says it's willing to purchase all land shaded pink so landowners don't need to split up parcels of land. Twenty two landowners own the area in question. (Government of Alberta)

3. Was consultation with Tsuut'ina First Nation pursued? 

Consultation with the nearby Indiginous group was pursued, Johnson says, but ultimately their land doesn't fall in the boundary. 

"From the area where the water will actually gather, there's more than a kilometre to the Tsuut'ina Nation boundary. So, the concerns about the proximity in terms of any type of potential for damage has been greatly exaggerated," he said.

The province plans to file provincial and federal environmental assessments in October with construction slated for 2019. 

Don't understand what the dry dam would do or look like? The province made a conceptual video.