October 18, 2017

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Hydro urged to consider Indigenous peoples, environment in future projects

BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES</p><p>Manitoba Hydro is being urged by the Clean Environment Commission to consider the effects of any future projects, like the proposed new transmission line to Minnesota, on the environment and the rights of Indigenous People.</p>

BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Manitoba Hydro is being urged by the Clean Environment Commission to consider the effects of any future projects, like the proposed new transmission line to Minnesota, on the environment and the rights of Indigenous People.

The Clean Environment Commission has urged Manitoba Hydro to avoid or limit any effects its projects have on areas important to Indigenous people.

In approving a proposed transmission line to Minnesota, the CEC told the Crown corporation to pay attention to the wishes of Indigenous people as it constructs the line, and to continuing paying attention on all future projects.

The CEC also wants the provincial department of sustainable development to work closely with Hydro and the public to monitor the effects of the new transmission line for at least the next 10 years.

Faced with running the transmission line through farmland and residential development, or through environmentally sensitive forest and wetland areas in southeastern Manitoba, the CEC opted to take some of both.

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The Clean Environment Commission has urged Manitoba Hydro to avoid or limit any effects its projects have on areas important to Indigenous people.

In approving a proposed transmission line to Minnesota, the CEC told the Crown corporation to pay attention to the wishes of Indigenous people as it constructs the line, and to continuing paying attention on all future projects.

The CEC also wants the provincial department of sustainable development to work closely with Hydro and the public to monitor the effects of the new transmission line for at least the next 10 years.

Faced with running the transmission line through farmland and residential development, or through environmentally sensitive forest and wetland areas in southeastern Manitoba, the CEC opted to take some of both.

The CEC said its decision was a "trade-off between differing viewpoints."

Clean Environment Commission ruling

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The Manitoba-Minnesota Transmission Project (the project) consists of a 500-kilovolt (kV) alternating current (AC) power line running from the Dorsey Converter Station northwest of Winnipeg to the Manitoba-Minnesota border near Piney, plus additions and upgrades to three associated transmission stations and modifications to two existing power lines.

The station upgrades are to Dorsey, the Riel Converter Station (east of Winnipeg) and Glenboro South stations. The largest component of the project is construction of 213 kilometres of new transmission line, which will run around the south end of Winnipeg to Riel from Dorsey, from there due east to a point south of Anola, and angle to the southeast, connecting with the new 500 kV AC Great Northern Transmission Line (GNTL) at the border near Piney.

The GNTL will then run nearly 400 km to the Blackberry substation in the Iron Range region of Minnesota, approximately 100 km northwest of Duluth. Minnesota Power is the proponent for the GNTL in the regulatory process in the United States.

Manitoba Hydro describes the purpose of the MMTP as threefold:

• To deliver contracted power to and from the United States pursuant to new long-term power sale agreements;

• To improve reliability for Manitoba power users by increasing Manitoba Hydro’s capacity for purchase of electricity in the event of emergency or drought situations;

• To increase Manitoba Hydro’s capacity to participate in organized electricity markets in the United States.

"Some arguments were provided to the panel that Manitoba Hydro developments should be moved onto 'sparsely populated land' (Crown land), in part so that 'natural' habitats could remain on private property. These arguments are perfectly understandable from the perspective of people who work hard to build an agricultural operation or a home in a rural setting which they want to protect. At the same time, to simply move development further into the 'sparsely populated' lands would accelerate the fragmentation" of those areas, wrote the commission.

Hydro is reviewing the report, media relations officer Bruce Owen said this week.

"Manitoba Hydro will continue to engage Indigenous peoples and area residents as it moves along in the regulatory review process. Manitoba Hydro will continue to have an open door to conversations about the project with those interested," he said. "Further, Manitoba Hydro has had, and plans to continue to have, a strong working relationship with Manitoba Sustainable Development."

An official with the ministry said the government will talk to Hydro before commenting.

The CEC acknowledged Hydro has improved its communications since hearings five years ago for the Bipole III megaproject.

Nevertheless, the commission said, it recommended "Manitoba Hydro take steps, in future projects, to facilitate Aboriginal traditional knowledge and land and resource use studies being completed in time to be incorporated into the environmental impact statement.

"Manitoba Hydro (should) establish and support a monitoring advisory group composed of nominees of First Nations communities and the Manitoba Metis Federation and representatives of local residents, interested non-governmental organizations, and academic researchers, which will provide input into monitoring and management of the (right-of-way)," said the ruling.

"The commission will be encouraging Manitoba Hydro to become a leader in right-of-way management and in engagement of affected communities and landowners in the ongoing monitoring of the project. The commission will propose that Manitoba Hydro and the Department of Sustainable Development, with the agreement of the communities, integrate the various communities and interests into one monitoring process to lessen polarizing points of view, and provide for a process that brings together diverse perspectives in order to help minimize project impacts," the CEC said.

The CEC also instructed Hydro to avoid harm to certain species when constructing its lines.

"Manitoba Hydro (should) conduct field surveys of the eastern tiger salamander and mottled duskywing butterfly, in areas of likely habitat, prior to construction," said the commission, and "expand point-count and breeding bird surveys, to include the least bittern and the short-eared owl, prior to construction."

nick.martin@freepress.mb.ca

Read more by Nick Martin.

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