After years of protest Tsuut'ina no longer objects to flood mitigation

After years of protest, the Tsuut'ina Nation has withdrawn its opposition to the proposed Springbank reservoir, a major flood-mitigation project the Alberta government plans to build upstream of Calgary.

According to the CBC:

The First Nation alerted the provincial government to its decision to withdraw objections on April 1. The Tsuut'ina Nation sent a letter, now posted online, saying it would "not participate any further in regulatory review processes."

Tsuut'ina Chief Roy Whitney was quoted in province's Tuesday afternoon announcement as saying the two sides had "reached an agreement."

"Our primary concern has always been the protection of our people and our land," Whitney said. "We have reached an agreement that provides that protection and allows us to mitigate impacts from flooding in the future."

The details of that agreement were not included in the announcement.

A spokesperson for the nation, Gord Olsen, said he was not familiar with all of the details but noted that the agreement includes some mitigation changes to protect property used by the nation and other communities.

"It's positive. It removes a major obstacle for this project moving forward," Olsen told CBC News. "And certainly it demonstrates that the nation is sensitive to some of the representations made by the mayor and other members of the Calgary council."

The Alberta government has not yet responded to answer CBC's questions.

On Twitter, Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi thanked the two sides for "the dialogue towards our mutual benefit."

"This is fantastic news for Calgary," the mayor said on Twitter. "In the nation's withdrawal of opposition, we get one step closer to the safety and security that the Springbank reservoir will provide."

Release full details, group says

Karin Hunter, president of the Springbank Community Association, called for the full details of the agreement to be released.

"One has to ask, what were the terms of that agreement that caused the shift in the position?" Hunter said. "I think we all deserve some transparency about this project."

The Springbank reservoir has been controversial since first being explored in 2014 as part of the response to the 2013 floods in southern Alberta.

If approved by federal regulators, the reservoir may cover more than 3,500 acres of land in the Springbank area west of Calgary, near the lands of Tsuut'ina Nation.

The project would allow water from the Elbow River to be diverted temporarily into the reservoir, where it would be stored and only allowed to flow back into the Elbow River and toward Calgary when the flood risk subsides.

Worried about damage

The project was opposed by some landowners and the Tsuut'ina First Nation, which previously preferred an earlier proposal to build a permanent reservoir in the McLean Creek area.

Hunter said she worries the silt from the floods would go into the middle of her community, forever changing the landscape. She said she also worries water could back up into communities.

"We know this project is a priority for people in the inner city. But what's been lost along the way is that because this project is so political, we are not convinced the science backs it up," Hunter said.

She said the communities in and around Springbank will have to deal with the repercussions of the dam, and potential flood, "in perpetuity."

The association and other groups will continue to take part in ongoing consultations, to raise their concerns, she said.

"I don't think that our community has a lot of trust in Alberta Transportation to have a neutral assessment," Hunter said. "So we're relying on the regulators at this point to be that sober second thought, and really asked if this project is in the public interest."

'Outstanding questions from regulators'

Until this announcement, Tsuut'ina leaders declined to give their consent for the project, saying the proposal did not consider the impact on the land.

In the announcement, Alberta's transportation minister, Ric McIver, said the withdrawal of objections signified the result of meaningful consultations.

Last summer, the province was asked by the federal regulator for more information, the statement said, about how it was "addressing Indigenous concerns."

More consultation is planned with community members and Indigenous people "to address outstanding questions from regulators," the transportation ministry said.