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Delay Keeyask hearings for full review: First Nations

Say complete study needed on northern dams' impacts

Two aboriginal communities and their supporters filed notice Tuesday they want environmental hearings on Manitoba Hydro's Keeyask generating station project postponed until a wider study on the impact of all dams in the north is done.

Pimicikamak Cree Nation, Peguis First Nation, the Interfaith Task Force on Hydro Development and Manitoba Wildlands say they want the Clean Environment Commission (CEC) public hearings on Keeyask delayed until a full cumulative environmental assessment on all hydroelectric projects across northern Manitoba is complete.

They also say no further Hydro projects should be considered until that wider environmental assessment is submitted, preferably by an independent agency.

Pimicikamak executive council member David Muswaggon said the Cross Lake community is trying to stop the Keeyask hearing not for its own benefit, but for that of all Manitobans. Cross Lake is just below Hydro's Jenpeg dam built in the 1970s.

"It's not only in Pimicikamak's best interest, Manitoba's best interest, taxpayers' best interest, it's in the environment's best interest," he said.

"The erosion continues as we sit here and speak, the size of football fields in a year, thousands of islands being lost, prime vegetation, animals being affected, the entire ecosystem being affected. How many more dams are we going to build before we even look at the damage?"

Peguis Chief Glen Hudson said his community is involved because of the impact of artificial flooding caused by Hydro projects in the province. Peguis First Nation is about 600 kilometres from the proposed Keeyask site at Gillam on the Nelson River.

"Jobs and job creation are important and generating revenue is important," Hudson said, making his point by pouring water into a glass until it overflowed. "But also, the lives of our people are important. That's what Manitoba Hydro needs to understand and more specifically this government."

Manitoba Hydro spokesman Glenn Schneider said officials are still going over the material submitted Tuesday and would have no comment.

The CEC said in its June report on the Bipole III transmission line project that such a cumulative assessment was required before any new Hydro projects are considered.

"Understanding these impacts may lead to the use of current mitigation measures being applied to past impacts, resulting in some remediation. Greater understanding may also lead to alterations in the structure or operation of existing projects, and may offset impacts from new projects," the CEC said.

The CEC has set Oct. 17 aside to hear these arguments.

CEC chairman Terry Sargeant said Tuesday he did not want to comment as it could preclude what's discussed and determined at that hearing.

The CEC's public hearings on the Keeyask project begin Sept. 24 in Gillam and are scheduled to end Nov. 28 in Winnipeg. The Public Utilities Board is in the early stages of conducting a "Need For And Alternative To" review of Hydro's overall plan for hydroelectric development in the province.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 12, 2013 A8

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