Flood drainage plan little comfort to homeless

Adrian Sinclair, chief of Lake St. Martin First Nation, is far from impressed with the province's plan to drain the flooded lake which has left his community of 600 people homeless.
Premier Greg Selinger announces flood relief package last May 24. ((John Bronevitch/CBC))

The chief of Lake St. Martin First Nation is far from impressed with the province's plan to drain the flooded lake which has left his community of 600 people homeless.

Construction is set to begin immediately on a $100-million, eight-kilometre-long emergency channel to drain water from bloated Lake Manitoba and Lake St. Martin.

But Chief Adrian Sinclair says the channel comes too late to save his community, much of which is under water.

Instead of a channel, his nearly 600 members need to settle in a new location immediately.

"What about my interim village? What about my children, our elders? They live in limbo in Winnipeg."

The province says if it can finish the channel by winter, levels on Lake St. Martin and Lake Manitoba will be lower before next spring's runoff begins.

Cramped conditions in hotel

That is small consolation for those who are now homeless and who may never return home.

Forced from her home at Lake St. Martin First Nation, Alicia Anderson and her three children have been living under crowded conditions in a Winnipeg hotel room for nearly three months.

Plan won't save reserve: minister

The emergency channel won't save the chronically-flooded Lake St. Martin First Nation, said Manitoba's Aboriginal Affairs Minister Eric Robinson.

The reserve has been plagued by flooding for decades and dropping the level of the two swollen lakes by almost a metre isn't enough, he said, adding the community is a writeoff and he wouldn't want to see anybody going back to it.

About 600 residents from the reserve were forced from their homes in May and haven't been able to return.

Talks are underway to move the residents out of hotels in Winnipeg to a temporary settlement closer to the reserve.

The goal is a permanent move to higher ground.

Robinson said the emergency channel is long overdue but it's just too late for the First Nation.

"Our situation here is pretty cramped up," she said, adding she worries where the kids will go to school in the fall — just five weeks away. "They missed a couple of months of school already, May and June, when we first came here."

Other First Nations communities have been affected by the flooding as well. They include Peguis, Dauphin River, Little Saskatchwan, and Lake Manitoba. Peguis Chief Glenn Hudson worries the children are losing their future.

"When it takes two extra years or three extra years for a kid to finish school, that could be two or three years in their adult productive life," said Hudson.

Bands are currently in talks with Ottawa, to come up with a solution. Many kids may simply go to school in Winnipeg.

Meantime, other flooded-out Manitobans around the bulging lakes say the emergency channel is a good first step, but not enough.

Rancher Oli Olsen of the Lake Manitoba Flood Rehabilitation Committee worries the channel won't drain enough water from the lakes.

"At this time they're merely relying on the Fairford River Structure to drain Lake Manitoba, which has not been adequate, this year."

Olsen points out the plan would only bring Lake Manitoba to the level it was earlier this spring, so there could still be more flooding.

The province says plans could expand to include a new bypass out of Lake Manitoba, once the first channel is complete.

With files from The Canadian Press