Manitoba working on settlement for flooded First Nations

The Manitoba government says it has set aside $100 million as it works toward a final settlement with four First Nations hardest hit by the 2011 flood.
Flood waters destroyed the Lake St. Martin First Nation in the spring of 2011. (CBC)

The Manitoba government says it has set aside $100 million as it works toward a final settlement with four First Nations hardest hit by the 2011 flood.

Aboriginal and Northern Affairs Minister Eric Robinson said the settlement package would address all past and future flood claims related to the operation of the Fairford River water control structure, which flows into Lake St. Martin.

Robinson called Tuesday's announcement an initial step in the settlement process, adding that the money — which is expected to be matched by federal funding — will only be spent if the offer is accepted by the First Nations.

The settlement will be offered to cover past and future flooding for four First Nations that are downstream of the Fairford structure: Lake St. Martin, Little Saskatchewan, Dauphin River and Pinaymootang.

Of the 1,888 Manitoba First Nation members who remain displaced as a result of the 2011 flood, more than 1,600 of them are from those four communities, according to federal numbers.

"The devastating 2011 flood was on a scale never before seen in Manitoba, and the hardest-hit families have been away from their home communities for far too long," Robinson stated in a news release Tuesday, adding that many families have had to deal with decades of chronic flooding.

"This is an important step forward in ensuring they are able to return to homes that are safe from the threat of future flooding as we seek a fair resolution of historical claims for flooding dating back to the construction of the Fairford control structure in 1961."

Negotiations on the settlement will cover flood mitigation measures, replacement lands and compensation for damages and infrastructure, according to the province.

Robinson said ensuring that families displaced by the 2011 flood can come home to "safer, better-protected communities" will be a "critical step" toward a final settlement.

The First Nations are suing the provincial government for total damages of at least $1 billion, claiming that the province caused excessive flooding in its operation of numerous water-control structures.

Robinson said the First Nations' acceptance of the offer would not preclude them from continuing with their legal action.

Infrastructure and Transportation Minister Steve Ashton said the province has already built an emergency channel out of Lake St. Martin, and officials plan to make that channel permanent.