Plans to construct a massive dam and dry reservoir upriver from Calgary, a project designed to save the city’s downtown from another devastating flood, are continuing despite provoking the rage of ranchers and First Nations.
Calgarians will mark the six-year anniversary of the catastrophic deluge that swept through Alberta’s largest city on June 19. No substantial barriers have been built on the Elbow River since that flood to avert a future disaster.
On Friday, Alberta’s transportation minister announced that the province is moving forward with an environmental assessment of the Springbank dam project on the Elbow River by sending 8,000 pages of information to provincial and federal regulators.
Premier Jason Kenney’s government is seeking approval within a year to start construction on the dam, despite calls from legislators in the Premier’s party that the project should be shelved and less divisive alternatives considered.
The $432-million dam has divided local politicians since it was first proposed in 2015. The dam would see a structure built on the river, about 25-kilometres west of Calgary, to divert flood waters into a dry reservoir built on nearly 16 square kilometres of ranch land west of the city. The area would be largely closed to the public.
Transportation Minister Ric McIver told reporters on Friday that he’s looking to begin construction as soon as possible. The project would require three years to complete. He said the government will continue speaking with local ranchers and First Nations who have expressed concern that the project will destroy a number of ranches and ruin the habitat around the reservoir.
“Consultation on this project will continue until this project is approved and constructed and during its operations, at which point we will have a concrete example to show how it works in a real flood situation. Make no mistake, that day is coming. It’s not a question of if the Elbow River will flood, it’s a matter of when,” Mr. McIver said.
Ranchers in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains have resisted selling their land. So far, the province has purchased only 20 per cent of the land needed for the project.
Officials confirmed on Friday that they’ve made no significant changes to the government’s plan in response to local protest.
Mary Robinson, a rancher who lives and works on 600 acres of land that borders the Elbow River, is opposed to the project. Her land would be submerged in the case of flooding under the proposal.
Ms. Robinson said ranchers have not been contacted by the government since Mr. Kenney’s United Conservatives were elected in April. Ranchers were also not told in advance about Friday’s regulatory filing.
“This is sacrificing one community for another. This is an issue of votes for them. We thought this new government would see this differently. There are no facts, they won’t tell us anything and they’ve stopped us through Freedom of Information. It’s a closed door,” she said.
According to Ms. Robinson and Lee Drewry, another local contacted by The Globe and Mail, landowners have not been allowed to ask questions at meetings with officials. “If you call consultation inviting us to a meeting with no microphone and telling us what you’re going to do, then yeah, they’ve been consulting,” she said.
Mr. Drewry said he was disappointed to see the new government’s approach after Mr. Kenney promised during the election campaign to create an act that would protect property rights and make it harder for government to expropriate land. “If they want to take our land, they’ll take it one way or the other,” he said.
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