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Interlake First Nations welcomes federal assessment that flood project would cause ‘adverse environmental impacts’

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A partnership of Manitoba tribal councils is welcoming a federal assessment that a flood protection infrastructure project proposed in the Interlake will likely cause ‘significant adverse environmental effects to the area.’

The federal environmental assessment report for the Lake Manitoba and Lake St. Martin Outlet Channels Project was released earlier this month.

“We believe this decision in recognition is a step in the right direction. We’ve been saying this all along that this finding aligns with what our communities have been saying about this project since 2017,” said Karl Zadnik, CEO of the Interlake Reserves Tribal Council (IRTC).

The assessment concluded even with mitigation measures and follow-up work, the project could result in residual environmental effects to at-risk species that are of cultural importance to Indigenous groups, including habitat loss and effects on wildlife health and mortality.

“The project may impact Aboriginal and treaty rights, including from loss or alteration of access to sites of traditional and cultural importance, and effects to the availability and quality of lands and resources of importance,” the report reads.

The project by Manitoba Transportation and Infrastructure proposes the construction and operation of a new, permanent flood control management system in response to the catastrophic floods of 2011 and 2014.

The project would see the construction of two channels about 23 kilometres long that would drain water from Lake Manitoba through Lake St. Martin and into Lake Winnipeg. The project also involves building three bridges, two water control structures and a 24-kilovolt distribution line, as well as adjusting the nearby highway infrastructure.

Canada’s environment and climate change minister Stephen Guilbeault issued a decision last week, acknowledging the project is likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects.

IRTC Chair Chief Cornell McLean says the decision affirms their concerns about the project.

“We’ve always said this, that the effects were going to be harmful to our First Nations, especially to our fishing industries, our medicines and our way of life,” he said.

“It’s just been proven now by the federal minister that he looks at it the same way, and we’re hoping that he can present that to his colleagues in government, and we will do the same here.”

Manitoba Infrastructure and Transportation Minister Lisa Naylor says the report reflects the concerns raised by First Nations when the New Democrats first took office.

“We are pleased that the federal government is taking their time and consulting before making any final decisions on the Lake Manitoba/ Lake St. Martin Channels project,” Naylor said in a statement.

“Flood mitigation remains a priority for our government, and it is important that communities have the opportunity to bring their ideas, concerns and needs to that conversation.”

Meantime, Guilbeault has referred the matter to the governor in council, who is tasked with deciding whether the significant adverse environmental effects likely to be caused by the project are justified under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act.

“A final decision on the project will be informed by available and relevant scientific information and Indigenous Knowledge provided by Indigenous Peoples involved in the environmental assessment of the project,” the federal government said.

- With files from CTV’s Taylor Brock and Kayla Rosen 

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