A dispute between a northern Cree community and Manitoba Hydro, over past flooding caused by hydro dams and the high cost of electricity in the north, continues without any signs of a resolution.

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This article was published 16/10/2014 (2434 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

A dispute between a northern Cree community and Manitoba Hydro, over past flooding caused by hydro dams and the high cost of electricity in the north, continues without any signs of a resolution.

Pimicikamak First Nation served what it calls an eviction notice to Hydro workers at the Jenpeg generating station at the north end of Lake Winnipeg on the Nelson River earlier this month, leaving behind only a skeleton staff to oversee the dam's operations.

The eviction notice was served because the First Nation is accusing Hydro of not paying the community for using its traditional territory for hydro development.

More than 100 protesters marched to the hydro dam Wednesday and some have refused to leave.

The Jenpeg generating station, which cost $310 million to build in the 1970s, is about 525 kilometres north of Winnipeg and is a key element in Manitoba Hydro's northern electricity generation. The dam is used to help regulate the level of Lake Winnipeg, which has become swollen in recent years due to flooding, and the site also acts as a reservoir for other northern generating stations.

Demonstrators have occupied the grounds and Hydro staff housing complex near Cross Lake since Oct. 6 when the eviction notice was served on Hydro.

On Thursday, Manitoba Hydro Minister Stan Struthers and Hydro CEO Scott Thomson were on standby to fly to Cross Lake to meet with band members. However, it was unclear whether band members wanted to meet them or were holding out to meet with Premier Greg Selinger.

"We continue to hope we can resolve it as soon as possible to protect the safety of everyone concerned," Hydro spokesman Scott Powell said. "Our main concern is for the safety of our employees on-site, members of the public and the protesters themselves. They are at an electrical facility."

Powell added no one is inside the generating station itself, just the grounds around it.

Darwin Paupanakis, executive council representative at Pimicikamak, said the community believes the Northern Flood Agreement is not being implemented as intended. The agreement was signed in 1977 to compensate northern communities, including Cross Lake, for flooding caused by dams built years earlier.

Paupanakis said Hydro is making decisions about what falls under the agreement without band input.

"They've unilaterally set a cap on what needs to be done," he said.

The agreement, which was updated in 2010, has seen more than $100 million in payments to Cross Lake, Manitoba Hydro says.

Payments totalling $9,261,059 will be made to the community up to January 2022.

Paupanakis said the community wants a "reconciliation summit" with Selinger to get back to the spirit of the Northern Flood Agreement and cleaning up the lingering affects of flooding.

"They created a mess, and they're not cleaning it up," he said. "All political attempts to have genuine discussions have failed."

Pimicikamak is also about $4 million in arrears in outstanding electricity-bill payments built up over the past few years.

Paupanakis said the band is of the view Hydro is illegally using the band's land for a transmission line and the Crown corporation should negotiate for a permit.

"What the people are saying is that we could settle some accounts," he said. "We pay the highest rates in Manitoba in an economy with high unemployment. We can't sustain those rates. It does not make sense."

Pimicikamak's dispute with Hydro has gone on for about a decade, escalating last year when Hydro mailed out 280 disconnection warnings for non-payment of bills.


-- with files from The Canadian Press

bruce.owen@freepress.mb.ca