02/12/2014 12:57 EST | Updated 04/14/2014 05:59 EDT

Saddlebrook Temporary Flood Neighbourhood Won't Close Any Time Soon: Minister


HIGH RIVER, - The cabinet minister in charge of rebuilding the community hardest hit by last year's flooding in Alberta says a temporary neighbourhood currently housing as many as 500 evacuees won't be closing any time soon.

In a letter to residents this week, the Alberta Municipal Affairs Department said it has extended its current arrangement to keep the Saddlebrook complex just outside High River open beyond March while homes in the town are torn down and rebuilt.

Rick Fraser, Alberta's associate minister of regional recovery and reconstruction, said the province is looking at a "transition housing" project called Highwood Junction that would have a more permanent feel and be right inside High River.

But until that is up in running, Fraser said Saddlebrook will remain home for those displaced.

"You are seeing the numbers in temporary neighbourhoods decrease seven-and-a-half months after the flood," he said.

"But there are those whose houses we have had to demolish in High River and other flood affected areas. They're going to need places to live and it may be a year until that house is built and they need a community. So we're working on that."

Cities and towns from the Rocky Mountains in the province's west, all the way east to Medicine Hat, were damaged by last June's floods. High River was the hardest hit when torrential rains dumped 350 millimetres of water over two days.

The Highwood River flooded much of the community. Downtown streets turned to raging rivers. It took weeks to pump water from one neighbourhood called the Hamptons. Whole subdivisions need to be rebuilt.

Saddlebrook was setup about five kilometres outside High River last August, with room for up to 1,200. The 40-hectare site uses trailers as living quarters and has a recreation centre, laundry facilities and three kitchens.

A similar community called Great Plains was setup near Calgary but, with only 40 remaining residents there, the province is has said it will be shut down soon.

Fraser said the number of people living in Saddlebrook fluctuates between 400 and 500, and many won't be able to return home for some time. The province collects rent from those staying there. A family of two adults and two children is charged $1,217 a month.

Fraser said he couldn't reveal a lot of detail about Highwood Junction, other than to say it would be more permanent and will be right in High River so residents won't feel as isolated.

Fraser said there a lot of ideas being studied about what to do with Saddlebrook after people move out.

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