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Negotiations with Ottawa, province hit roadblock

OTTAWA -- Negotiations to solve the flood crisis at Lake St. Martin First Nation appear to have broken down.

According to a consultant with Lake St. Martin, the band has had no discussions with either the federal or provincial governments about a solution since mid-August. The band has proceeded to a lawsuit.

Band consultant Rarihokwats -- who goes by just one name -- said Tuesday the band asked the provincial and federal governments on Sept. 5 for a written statement about where things were at. Among the requests were documents about possible options the band believes have been prepared but which the band has not been given. Rarihokwats said after getting no response the band filed a motion in court Sept. 28.

The motion seeks to restart a case from 1999, seeking compensation for previous flooding. It is seeking to amend the statement of claim to include the 2011 flooding. The next hearing date is scheduled for January.

Meantime, the federal government said it is willing to negotiate based on a framework agreement signed in April, but only if the First Nation abandons the court challenge.

"Canada and Manitoba are seeking direction from the First Nation on whether they wish to continue discussions under the framework or pursue litigation," said Aboriginal Affairs Manitoba region spokeswoman Ellen Funk in an email.

More than 1,000 Lake St. Martin residents are still living in hotels and rentals off the reserve after the 2011 floods forced them from their homes. Most of the homes are damaged beyond repair.

In the 18 months since the reserve was evacuated, the federal and provincial governments and the First Nation have negotiated on and off, including where the reserve will move to or what flood protection would be needed to keep the reserve in its current spot.

There are five other reserves that still have partial evacuation orders, including Pinaymootang (17 evacuees), Little Saskatchewan (358 evacuees), Dauphin River (255 evacuees), Ebb and Flow (102 evacuees), and Peguis (183 evacuees). There are varying reasons for those communities' continued problems but mainly it is the need to rebuild damaged homes and install new flood mitigation structures to prevent future damage.

Residents of Dauphin River could be able to return home soon because the road access to the community has been restored and final work on flood mitigation and hydro and water reconnections is underway.

An engineering study completed for the provincial government in September looked at rebuilding and flood mitigation options for four of the six First Nations still under evacuation orders. The study concluded it will cost between $54 million and $58 million to build new dikes, relocate homes and install new flood protection infrastructure such as pumps and pumphouses at Lake St. Martin, Little Saskatchewan and Pinaymootang.

The variation in costs depends on whether the emergency outlet channel from Lake St. Martin, built in 2011, will become permanent.

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