Premier Jason Kenney and other Alberta government ministers and officials were in Calgary May 5 to announce the contract award and beginning of construction for the Springbank Off-Stream Reservoir Project (SR-1), which is now set to cost a total of $744 million.
The press conference was held at Calgary’s St. Patrick’s Island, near the confluence of the Elbow and Bow rivers. The location was symbolic, according to Kenney, as the area was at the centre of the 2013 floods that devastated many inner-city Calgary neighbourhoods as well as some of Calgary’s surrounding communities along the Elbow River, including Bragg Creek and Redwood Meadows.
“As we know, back in 2013, a catastrophic flood developed, and this was the very heart of it,” Kenney said. “[It was] a flood that caused more damage than any other flood in Canadian history – $5 billion of damage that destroyed an enormous amount of property and disrupted people’s lives in Calgary and surrounding areas for weeks.
“We know it was a once-in-a-century flood, but we must be prepared for the next major flood to prevent damage of that scale.”
During his remarks, Kenney discussed the public interest of SR-1 – a dry-dam reservoir that, once complete, will temporarily divert and store 78 million cubic metres of floodwater from the Elbow River during an extreme flooding event before releasing it back into the river.
The Alberta government first proposed the project in 2014. It will be constructed in west Rocky View County, north of Highway 8 and east of Highway 22.
Construction of the dry dam reservoir has officially begun, following approval from both provincial and federal regulators in 2021.
The construction of SR-1 will create 2,200 jobs and create a reservoir area of approximately 3,700 acres, according to Kenney, who said SR-1 will be partially completed in 2024 and fully complete by 2025.
The cost of the project has risen to $744 million, of which Kenney noted $576 million will be paid for by the provincial government. He added the province’s 2022 budget confirmed a $473 million capital investment for the SR-1 project over the next two years.
“This is one of the largest infrastructure projects ever undertaken in the province funded primarily by the Government of Alberta,” he said.
“I know Calgarians, particularly in the flood zone, have been anxious and waiting for this project to get underway.”
Other speakers at the May 5 event included Minister of Transportation Rajan Sawhney, Minister of Jobs, the Economy, and Innovation Doug Schweitzer, Minister of Municipal Affairs Ric McIver, Chiniki First Nation Chief Aaron Young, and City of Calgary councillor Raj Dhaliwal.
Sawhney was the speaker who brought up Vinci Infrastructure Construction Ltd. as the contractor that successfully bid for the project. The minister added SR-1 is a key element of Alberta’s infrastructure for flood mitigation.
“With work now underway, Calgary and surrounding communities can rest assured that SR-1 will protect our communities against a future one-in-a-hundred-years flood,” she said.
Since SR-1 was originally proposed in 2014, the project has received push-back from many Springbank residents. The Springbank Community Association has been a vocal opponent for years, touting another location for a flood mitigation reservoir further upstream at McLean Creek as a less disruptive alternative.
Other opponents originally included Rocky View County, Tsuutʼina Nation, and Don't Damn Springbank – a grassroots group of area residents that formed to challenge the project, and suggest alternative options for flood relief. Tsuutʼina Nation and RVC both withdrew their formal opposition in the spring of 2020, receiving millions in financial compensation as a result.
In previous interviews with Great West Media, Springbank Community Association president Karin Hunter brought up issues landowners expressed about SR-1’s potential environmental impacts and air quality concerns, as well as the government's lack of transparency and the rising cost of the project.
“We remain concerned, and we’re disappointed that it’s moving forward,” she said in a November 2021 interview. “But the government had its full weight behind the project since day one, and so it’s a difficult situation to be in.”
When it was his turn at the microphone on May 5, McIver called SR-1 “the right project,” adding three separate provincial governments have been in favour of it over the last eight years.
“The PC government picked this project after doing great research two governments ago,” he said. “The former NDP government was elected on a promise to not build Springbank but build something else. But once confronted with the facts after they were in government, decided this was the right project.
“Our government, with a fresh look at it because we were a new government, looked at it hard to make sure. I feel really good about the fact this is the right project. It’s been confirmed by three different governments of three different stripes.”
When asked about Springbank residents’ opposition to the project, Sawhney replied there was no land expropriation involved with SR-1 and that multiple levels of government signed off on it.
She acknowledged there was some backlash from area residents in the lead-up to SR-1’s final approval last year, but said all the land acquisition negotiations were voluntary.
“While we’ll never have 100 per cent agreement on the project itself, I think we’ve done tremendous work and the fact there was no expropriation speaks volumes as to the level of engagement and the success of our interactions with people, including residents of Springbank,” she said.
Sawhney added the province did “extensive engagement” with community members, stakeholders, and Indigenous communities about SR-1 over the years.
“Overall, the feedback as of late has been positive, but we’re certainly open to having further conversations with anyone who expresses concerns around this project. It’s important to us to be transparent in that regard.”
In her previous interview with Great West Media, Hunter claimed there were very few landowners who sold their land voluntarily, instead feeling there was little alternative.
“The pressure of the government and threat of expropriation is significant and hard to combat,” she said.