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Province reaches land agreement with former SR1 opponent

Despite having spent years advocating against the Springbank Off-Stream Reservoir (SR1), Ryan Robinson has reached an agreement with the Government of Alberta to sell his family’s Springbank-area land to accommodate the project.
Dam Land Agreement
Minister of Transportation Brian Mason announced the Government of Alberta has reached an agreement to acquire land from the Robinson family for the Springbank Off-Stream Reservoir.

Despite having spent years advocating against the Springbank Off-Stream Reservoir (SR1), Ryan Robinson has reached an agreement with the Government of Alberta to sell his family’s Springbank-area land to accommodate the project. Robinson had been a driving force behind Don’t Damn Springbank, a grassroots group of landowners, residents and concerned citizens opposed to SR1. He served as a spokesperson for the group as far back as 2015. “The government’s plan is to purchase nearly 7,000 acres of private land to build this project, and it just doesn’t make sense,” Robinson told the Rocky View Weekly in November 2017. “There’s a better choice upstream that would protect more communities, protect more properties and would require the same investment and environmental studies as [SR1].” Robinson did not respond to a request for comment by press time, but released a statement saying the agreement would allow the family to “move forward and focus on the future of our operations in RVC. This agreement creates the certainty our family needs to ensure a future for our children and grandchildren, as well as for the many employees of our operation.” “I’m happy to say the Robinson family will be able to continue to operate their ranch in Rocky View County (RVC) as a result of this agreement,” Minister of Transportation Brian Mason said Jan. 29, during an update on the progress of SR1. “We will also be relocating a heritage building that has a century-old history with the family.” Mason did not disclose the terms of the land acquisition, nor did he disclose how much the province has budgeted for land acquisition for SR1. “I’ve been asked not to talk about actual numbers and prices, because we don’t want disclosure of that information to affect negotiations with other landowners,” Mason said.  “We still have a significant amount of land we need to acquire for this project.” According to Mason, the Robinson family’s land comprised 12 per cent of the land required for the reservoir project, bringing the total land currently acquired by the government to 20 per cent. The project is behind schedule, according to Mason, due to an open-ended regulatory process he described as “much more lengthy than we expected.” Regardless, Mason reiterated the province’s commitment to the project. “[SR1] will provide the protection that is required by the City of Calgary and other downstream communities,” Mason said. “Of course, we know the damages that took place in the 2013 flood – both homes, but also to downtown Calgary, to things like the zoo, things like the Calgary Stampede grounds…. We need to mitigate that risk in the future. This project remains the best opportunity to do that. We’re going to continue to pursue it very vigorously.” In the meantime, discussions will continue with stakeholder groups including landowners, RVC, the City of Calgary and indigenous groups including the Tsuut’ina First Nation, Mason said. The province has been conducting “extensive consultations” with the Tsuut’ina, he said, providing them with the province’s hydrological data as well as covering the cost of additional hydrological data requested by the First Nation. “We’re committed to the process which is outlined by the Supreme Court of Canada in their decision with respects to the Trans-Mountain Pipeline, which requires ongoing and serious consultation with First Nations. We take that seriously,” Mason said. In a statement, Chief Lee Crowchild of the Tsuut’ina First Nation expressed his understanding for the Robinson family’s decision – acknowledging the “intense pressure” the family has faced – but repeated the First Nation’s opposition to the project. “Let me be clear, this announcement in no way changes the policy debate around the proposed dam or its certain impact in our Nation,” he said. “This project has not received regulatory approval, and Tsuut’ina has not consented to it. Tsuut’ina’s position has not changed. Alberta needs to explore other flood mitigation options.” Likewise, Lee Drewry, executive of grassroots opposition group Don’t Damn Springbank, voiced continued opposition to the project in a media release – but would not provide further comment. “Landowners representing more than 80 per cent of the land affected by the proposed Springbank dam remain even more convinced that SR1 is not the best project for Albertans,” he said. “We know that this project is affecting some families that have real roots in that community, and I really regret the fact that we need this land, but…it’s a very important project for a million-plus Calgarians,” Mason said. “If there was an alternative that I thought would provide that level of protection and do so in a timely way, I would have taken that.” The province remains hopeful it can complete voluntary land agreements with all landowners and is open to negotiate with all landowners that arrive at a fair price for their land, Mason said. However, if it is unable to acquire the land by the completion of the regulatory process, the province will move to expropriation. Mason also addressed RVC’s formal opposition to the project – supported unanimously by council at a regular meeting Dec. 11, 2018 – saying a letter would be sent to the County in response. “We’re committed to the project. I want to be clear, and we have never changed, we have never wavered on that,” Mason said. “This project is the best project to protect Calgary from flooding on the Elbow River, and to start over would add an additional three to four years before we can provide that flood protection.” -With files from Jessi Gowan