Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Parties debate 'Doer's detour'

Bipole III will be election issue, Tory leader vows

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Get ready for what the Tories are slamming as 'Doer's detour' to become an election issue when Hugh McFadyen goes up against Premier Greg Selinger on the hustings.Even though it's been more than four years since then premier Gary Doer nixed a plan to build a massive power line down the east side of the province, the government he left behind is still under fire for that costly decision.

In fact, the Progressive Conservative leader was using the hydro line to hammer away at the NDP during a lunch-hour debate Thursday and vowed to keep up the pressure going into the next election in Oct. 2011.

"It will be a mistake of historic proportions if it goes on the west side," McFadyen said after the Canadian Club of Winnipeg event. "Doer's detour will go down in history in the school-kids' history books as Duff's Ditch did, except that it'll... go down as the biggest public mistake potentially in Manitoba history."

The ongoing political fight is over which side of the province the line should run down: The originally proposed route on the east side of Lake Winnipeg, or a much longer and more expensive route down the west side of the province. The Nov. 2004 decision by the NDP to protect the east-side boreal forest in a bid to have it declared a UN World Heritage site, has dogged the government ever since.

Finance Minister Rosann Wowchuk, who's responsible for Manitoba Hydro, said the province is constantly defending its decision to have the Crown corporation build its new Bipole III line down the west side of the province.

Thursday's debate was the first time Wowchuk publicly duelled over the transmission line with McFadyen and Liberal Leader Jon Gerrard.

"People are putting information out that's inaccurate," Wowchuk said. "I think that it's my job to be here and explain to people and give the information as to why going back to the east side is impossible."

The heritage site application process is well underway, as are Hydro's plans to finalize a final route for the line, Wowchuk said.

Plus, she said the clock is ticking as Hydro has to start building the line in 2013 to meet a completion date in 2017, when power-export deals kick in with Wisconsin and Minnesota. To change plans for the line now could jeopardize those deals and take away $20 billion in revenue for the province, she said.

The $1.1-billion line will originate in Gillam, and run west over to Lake Winnipegosis, south along that lake and Lake Manitoba, and then east to the new Riel converter station being built just east of Winnipeg. There are already two lines running from the north delivering power, but a third is needed to build up reliability in the system and increase export sales.

The Tories say there's plenty of time to reverse Doer's decision and build the line down a shorter route on the east side for $640 million less -- without jeopardizing the heritage site designation.

McFadyen said information obtained by the Tories under a Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy request indicated Manitoba Hydro did not have any internal information outlining threats to export sales if the new line was built down the east side of Lake Winnipeg.

Manitoba Hydro released a follow-up letter Thursday, saying the information on the issue was released publicly in 2007. The study, done by CMC Consultants, said it's possible the lobbying of international environmental groups could delay the building of a line on the east side.

Gerrard said the province should pick neither route, and instead look to go down the middle, running a cable under Lake Winnipeg in the same way European countries transmit power under the North Sea.

Wowchuk said Hydro has examined that proposal, but opted for an above-ground line because Lake Winnipeg is too shallow and there are worries about what would happen to the line when the lake freezes up.

bruce.owen@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 22, 2010 B2

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