Flooded Manitoba First Nation could be salvaged

A Manitoba First Nation that was seriously damaged by last year's floods could be salvaged, meaning its members may not have to move to a new community.

Lake St. Martin officials insist on relocating reserve

A Manitoba First Nation that was seriously damaged by last year's floods could be salvaged, meaning its members may not have to move to a new community, according to the provincial government.

Government engineers and experts are working on a preliminary report for the Lake St. Martin First Nation, which has been without a home since last spring's extreme flooding rendered the existing reserve uninhabitable.

A variety of options are being studied, including the possibility of rebuilding the existing reserve site, said Don Norquay, the province's deputy minister responsible for First Nations flood issues.

"There are areas of the community that might — if we put in a dike — would be adequately flood-protected and could stay," Norquay told CBC News.

"What that [option] is depends on where the dike is, and whether we do depends on what it costs, plus the cost to rebuild on those areas where the houses have been damaged over the years," he added.

Some pumping water 

Provincial officials recently visited the flooded reserve, located about 300 kilometres north of Winnipeg. There, some members are still trying to salvage their homes.

Clint Beardy, for example, has been pumping out water from the yard around his house.

"Now it's not so much about water coming from the lake, but it's just snow runoff," Beardy said.

Meanwhile, Lawton Sinclair said there is black, thick mold creeping up the walls of his nephew's house.

"Water is devastating, eh?" Sinclair observed.

Most Lake St. Martin members were forced out of their homes, with hundreds put up in Winnipeg hotels. Almost a year later, many of the evacuees are still living in hotel rooms.

First Nation officials, who have been working on relocating the reserve to higher ground, are outraged to hear the province would even think of rebuilding the flood-prone site.

'Defies common sense'

Lake St. Martin Chief Adrian Sinclair told CBC News that his community will not return to the old site.

"It just defies common sense," said Rarihokwats, a band adviser.

Rarihokwats said the federal government had agreed years ago that the First Nation should move to higher ground.

Band officials will go to court if they are told to move back to the flooded reserve, he added.

The province is expected to present its preliminary report to the First Nation in the coming weeks.

The federal government has spent $12 million to support Lake St. Martin evacuees as of late January, and that price tag is expected to keep growing.

The provincial government has built an interim village for the Lake St. Martin First Nation at a decommissioned radar base near Gypsumville, Man.

But only a handful of families have moved into the makeshift village to date, with others refusing to follow suit.