January 19, 2020

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Hydro had Churchill ice trail closed due to contract breaches

Katie de Muelles / Winnipeg Free Press files</p><p>Workers work on the ice trail in Churchill last December. </p>

Katie de Muelles / Winnipeg Free Press files

Workers work on the ice trail in Churchill last December.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 29/8/2018 (508 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

OTTAWA — Manitoba officials ordered Churchill’s ice trail to close in January, after the companies involved left fuel cans, equipment and even a charred SUV along their remote pathway, the Free Press has learned.

Polar Industries and a business tied to Fox Lake Cree Nation operated a path for specialized vehicles to bring equipment and supplies up to Churchill this past winter, after the May 2017 washout of the northern Manitoba community’s Hudson Bay Railway link. The ice trail operated thanks to $100,000 in federal funds and a permit negotiated with Manitoba Hydro.

But Hydro had Sustainable Development officials revoke the environmental permit on Jan. 18, and Hydro confirmed on Tuesday it never reinstated it. Yet, deliveries continued into March.

Neither of the two operators could be reached for comment; it’s unclear whether they continued operations in breach of provincial law, or found another path.

Documents obtained through a freedom of information request show Hydro officials found 15 breaches of a contract that allowed the companies to follow the transmission line.

A letter to the groups listed multiple snowmobiles, vehicles and fuel cans found abandoned along the path. Officials noted "an SUV abandoned on the trail and burnt," while they were alarmed to find a sled holding a large propane tanker "has partially gone thru the ice" and "must be reported immediately... as a potential release of a dangerous good in transport."

Hydro also claimed the ice trail veered between transmission poles and guy wires at "a large number of locations" instead of leaving a five-metre clearance. "Manitoba Hydro understands the urgency to supply goods to Churchill, but we cannot allow the reliability of Churchill’s only power supply to be compromised," the letter from Hydro manager Alec Stuart reads.

He also wrote Hydro contractors completing the Bipole III transmission line had "safety concerns," though these aren’t outlined in the report.

Hydro issued its order on Jan. 18, one day before Fox Lake band members testified in Winnipeg about sexual abuse and cultural disruption by Hydro workers, for what has become a bombshell report by the Clean Environment Commission (CEC).

Fox Lake CEO Robert Wavey facilitated both the CEC testimony and the ice trail, though it does not appear the two are linked. (The Free Press requested documentation a month before the CEC report, which it received this week.)

Polar Industries head Mark Kohaykewych could not be reached on Tuesday, while Wavey wrote in a text message he had "no comment for now."

dylan.robertson@freepress.mb.ca

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