Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

UNESCO's concerns unrelated to Bipole III

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Regarding the news that a UNESCO designation of the east side as a world heritage site has been put on hold, it's time to assess the implications of relocating Manitoba Hydro's Bipole III line from the east-side forest to the west side of the province.

In 2005, the NDP directed Hydro to move the line to the west side to enhance the prospects of acquiring a UNESCO heritage designation for the east side. Since that time, Manitobans have been bombarded with propaganda on the benefits of this relocation. The price tag for this relocation was pegged at $1 billion.

There were numerous opinions for the transmission line relocation. For example, Premier Greg Selinger insisted there would be "deforestation" if the line proceeded on its initial routing. Totally untrue. The line would occupy no more than 10 square kilometres out of a total area of 43,000.

Then the NDP insisted that impending legislation in the U.S. would prevent U.S. customers from purchasing our hydroelectric power if that power was transmitted by an east-side line. This was a complete fabrication. The legislation enacted in Minnesota and Wisconsin requires only that the power purchased comes from a renewable source. The NDP knew that our hydroelectric power satisfied that legislation.

It was also claimed, by the proponents for the heritage site, that woodland caribou would be threatened if the line was built in this forest. Yet no mention was made of the harm that a proposed road will inflict on the wildlife with all of the associated traffic. A transmission line is a benign structure.

Manitobans were led to believe that once the line was removed from this forest, the heritage site designation would be a "slam dunk." It didn't turn out that way. UNESCO's concern has nothing to do with the presence of any infrastructure. It has to do with the aboriginal connection to the land.

Now, hold the phone. Does that mean that we moved the transmission line from this forest to the far west side of the province for nothing? That it is a complete waste of $1 billion? It certainly appears that way.

The folks at UNESCO know that a road is being built through this area and that didn't concern them. Neither did the mining activity, the hunting and fishing lodges, and the electrical distribution lines currently located in the same area. So why would a transmission line bother them? Clearly, it wouldn't.

No, it was the connectivity of the aboriginal residents to the land, something far more intangible than any infrastructure in this forest, that concerns UNESCO.

For the past eight years the NDP has been blowing smoke on the necessity of moving this line. Now that the smoke has cleared and after spending $14.5 million on the heritage site designation application, a clearer picture is emerging. In reality, the line did not have to be moved at all. Hydro's original proposal was sound and would not have impacted the prospects for the heritage designation one iota. Throughout this saga, the NDP has remained resolute. Not once have they acknowledged that they might be wrong and that their 2005 decision should be reversed. There is now a strong case to review the route of Bipole III.

If the line does get built on the west side, however, it will not be a total waste. For the next 100 years, it will serve as a monument to the crass arrogance, stubbornness and casuistry of this NDP government.

 

Will Tishinski is a retired vice-president of Manitoba Hydro.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 13, 2013 A15

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