Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Hydro signs $58-M deal with First Nation

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MANITOBA Hydro has quietly signed a $58-million compensation deal with the Misipawistik Cree Nation, quelling the band's opposition to one of the most destructive dams in the province.

The deal was signed last fall with little fanfare. Similar negotiations are underway with at least two other bands affected by ongoing flooding from the Grand Rapids generating station.

Timing is an issue -- the provincial licence that has allowed Manitoba Hydro to operate the Grand Rapids dam for the last 50 years expires in 2015.

But Manitoba Hydro says that looming deadline did not necessarily kick-start negotiations with the Misipawistik band, which was among the remaining northern bands with outstanding flood-compensation claims.

"We just wanted to reach a settlement," said spokesman Glenn Schneider, adding talks with Misipawistik have been ongoing for several years.

In 2005, then-Misipawistik Cree Nation Chief Ovide Mercredi camped out on the dam's spillway for two weeks to protest ongoing flooding and paltry compensation for damaged shorelines and the disruption of traditional fishing and trapping activities.

Misipawistik's current chief, Harold Turner, would not comment on the deal. He said Monday he does not speak to the media.

The Interfaith Task Force on Northern Hydro Development, an environmental and aboriginal advocacy group, obtained a copy of the agreement and shared it with the Free Press. The nine-page document lays out a series of payments to be made to the band over the next 50 years -- $3 million during negotiations, $5 million when the deal is signed, a $10 million lump-sum payment at the end of the agreement and $800,000 every year for 50 years, indexed to inflation.

While the value of the deal appears to be $58 million, Hydro officials said the value of the 50-year deal in today's dollars is $23 million, but they can't say how they arrived at that figure.

In exchange, Misipawistik acknowledged its concerns about the continued operation of the dam have been met and agreed to actively support Hydro's application for a new licence.

That would allow Hydro to continue to operate the dam until 2061, much as it has since the dam first opened in the 1964. Flooding from the Grand Rapids dam was among the worst in northern Manitoba. The dam deluged the original Chemawawin reserve -- which has an ongoing compensation deal with Hydro -- and flooded 500,000 acres of land, including some of the best wildlife habitat on the continent.

In anticipation of the relicensing process, Hydro has also begun talks with other bands in the region.

Mosakahiken Cree Nation Chief Philip Buck said his band on Moose Lake is hoping for a similar deal to Grand Rapids, though negotiations have just begun. And, Hydro is also negotiating with Opaskwayak Cree Nation near The Pas. Flooding did not damage those reserves as badly as it did Grand Rapids, so the value of the agreements will likely be lower.

Hydro deal raises questions /A10

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 14, 2012 A4

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