OTTAWA — A federal regulator has again found dozens of gaps and some errors in Manitoba Infrastructure’s environmental assessment of the proposed Interlake flood channel outlets.
"The (environmental impact statement) does not present information to justify the conclusions drawn," reads a technical information review released last week.
After sending Manitoba back to the drawing board in November, federal regulators have found 63 more issues in the province’s EIS for the Lake Manitoba-Lake St. Martin megaproject, expected to carry a $540-million price tag.
Most of the problems involve incomplete information, while some allege inaccurate information, as well as typos and cut-off paragraphs.
Manitoba submitted its original EIS in August 2019, but the Impact Assessment Agency of Canada found a lack of "information on predicted environmental and social costs" and vague risk-mitigation plans. It recommended Manitoba "ensure references to figures are accurate."
The province updated and resubmitted the massive report in March 2020, which Ottawa said still needs more precision. "The EIS does not address potential environmental effects associated with the full suite of operational scenarios," reads last week’s regulator response.
Manitoba has paid a consultant $3.5 million to complete the EIS, though the contract includes fixing errors.
IAAC said it needs clarity on issues such as:
• Plans to prevent construction from causing farm wells to erupt;
• How changes in the lakebed will impact water temperature and fish habitats;
• Mitigation measures for disruptions to endangered species;
• Whether the outlet will comply with federal fishery laws;
• How officials will prevent wildfires from blowing up fuel-storage tanks;
• Prevention plans, so construction explosives don’t contaminate waterways;
• Plans to ensure drinking water remains potable.
"The EIS does not provide enough information on the source, rationale, or details (e.g., data source, study methods and assumptions) of climate change" and its impact on the outlets’ functioning, the IAAC found. "No follow-up or monitoring is proposed for air quality," except if the project gets noise complaints during construction.
"Some historical data may not have been sampled using proper quality assessments," reads the analysis.
Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister has envisioned the legacy project as a way to prevent disastrous floods (similar to the Red River Floodway). He has urged the federal government to expedite the project’s review.
However, regulator filings show the province has been late to consult with Indigenous groups, despite multiple warnings from federal regulators, delaying the transfer of a quarter-billion dollars to the province.
The newest list of issues has again paused the clock for the IAAC to review the project, which currently stands at nearly eight months.
Infrastructure Minister Ron Schuler’s office referred an interview request to his department, which said "an iterative process" means the EIS gets fixed multiple times.
"Manitoba Infrastructure remains confident in the information presented in the EIS, and is currently working with environmental and engineering consultants to respond to these questions," wrote a department spokesman.
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Updated on Wednesday, April 29, 2020 at 10:51 PM CDT: Adds photo