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Province has $3.5M for flood-affected fishers

Income lost to high waters in First Nations

The Selinger government is creating an estimated $3.5-million assistance program for Interlake First Nations fishers who've lost their livelihoods because of summer flooding.

The province will donate about $5 million worth of flood-fighting equipment to First Nations, those that have borne the brunt of chronic flooding over the past several years, to create a rapid-response emergency operations centre, Infrastructure Minister Steve Ashton and Aboriginal and Northern Affairs Minister Eric Robinson said Friday after a tour of the Lake Manitoba flood zone.

"Having this equipment is going to better equip our communities to prepare and protect homes and infrastructure," Peguis First Nation Chief Glenn Hudson said. "This equipment is much-needed as soon as possible."

Hudson said the centre is to be administered by the Interlake Reserves Tribal Council and talks continue on having the federal government at least match the province's contribution of equipment, such as aquadams and pumps, that it has in its flood-fighting stockpile.

If a First Nation is under threat of flooding, the equipment can be deployed more quickly than the community having to go to the province and the federal government for help, Ashton said. Initial plans call for it to be stationed in the Lake St. Martin area.

"This way it will be one phone call," Ashton said.

Ashton also toured and met municipal officials in the RMs of St. Laurent and Coldwell who've put up defences on Lake Manitoba in the event high winds blow up large waves and threaten shoreline properties.

Ashton said the cost of the defences is eligible for disaster aid.

He said he's had a similar discussion with the RM of St. Clements about diking at Patricia Beach on Lake Winnipeg.

The fishers compensation program will be available to about 200 fishers from Lake St. Martin, Dauphin River, Little Saskatchewan and Pinaymootang First Nations. It will also reimburse up to 100 per cent of the cost of damaged nets and docks. Fishers staged a protest earlier this month at the Lake St. Martin emergency channel.

"It will cover lost income, but we're also covering off the upcoming seasons as well," Ashton said. "If they're not able to get in at all, there would be full compensation."

He also said the province will appoint Ron Bell as an independent commissioner to deal with any appeals. The province hired Bell following the 2011 floods to handle flood-compensation appeals.

Robinson said First Nations communities have been disproportionately hit by the flooding the past three years, and addressing the situation is long overdue.

Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada said as of July 23 there were 505 evacuees from First Nations communities who have been affected by flooding in 2014.

The province said Thursday it has received nearly 600 private applications for disaster financial assistance and another 35 applications from municipalities and other groups.

Meanwhile, Manitoba's Opposition Progressive Conservatives said in a statement Friday the Selinger government should fast-track the assessment process for the AgriRecovery Program for farmers affected by flooding this year.

"These producers are looking for immediate action from the government -- not vague promises of possible support some time in the future," agriculture critic Blaine Pedersen said.

As many as three million acres in Saskatchewan and 2.5 million acres in Manitoba have been flooded this summer and are unlikely to produce a crop, estimates from Saskatchewan's government and Keystone Agricultural Producers show.

Ottawa has said it is not ruling out ad hoc payments for flooded Prairie farmers under AgriRecovery, however, a formal assistance program has not been put in place.

In its most recent flood bulletin, the province said flows Thursday morning on the Portage Diversion were approximately 16,250 cubic feet per second, reduced to less than half of the 33,000 cfs seen last week during peak flows. The Portage Diversion is expected to close in the first week of August.

The flow on Assiniboine dikes between Portage la Prairie and Headingley was 15,000 cfs, down from 18,000 cfs last week.

Provincial crews worked with the RM of Portage la Prairie to remove flood protection at homes near the Hoop and Holler bend, the site where the province planned to breach the Assiniboine River to reduce pressure on dikes from flooding.

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