A group from Tataskweyak Cree Nation was in its second day of blocking traffic Saturday on the northern access route to Manitoba Hydro’s Keeyask generating station construction site.
The target of the group’s concern is a planned shift change of workers on May 19, which would bring as many as 1,200 employees to the site. Hydro scaled back the number of workers on site to about 700 when pandemic measures were first announced in March.
'Yes, we are (staying here), until we get a message and a commitment to shut down Keeyask until this pandemic goes away'‐ Tataskweyak band councillor Nathan Neckoway
The group wants to prevent the entry of the COVID-19 virus into their community, which is located approximately 750 km northeast of Winnipeg.
Tataskweyak band councillor Nathan Neckoway, whose community has been able to avoid any COVID-19 infections thus far, hopes to get the message out and said the group would remain in place until Manitoba Hydro changes course.
"Yes, we are (staying here), until we get a message and a commitment to shut down Keeyask until this pandemic goes away," said Neckoway via telephone from the site of the blockade on Provincial Road 280, one of two access routes to the construction site.
"One message we tell everybody, because we’re providing notification letters to traffic that goes by, north and south, we’re not blocking any residents. We give them notification stating it’s our mission to protect our people against COVID-19."
Manitoba Hydro said the shift change will go ahead Tuesday as planned and added it made adjustments to the plan based on input from the partner communities and public health officials and that there is little risk of transmission of COVID-19 from Keeyask to surrounding communities.
Hydro is developing the project in partnership with Tataskweyak, York Factory First Nation, War Lake First Nation and Fox Lake Cree Nation.
"Right now in our territory, there’s zero cases since COVID came into Manitoba and Canada in March," said Neckoway. "This risk of bringing 1,200 new people to the site of Keeyask; we’re kind of concerned and afraid that one case will come into our territory."
Manitoba Hydro media relations officer Bruce Owen said safety concerns have been addressed.
"For the past eight weeks the project site was essentially in lockdown, operating at about half-capacity with 700 workers who volunteered to stay," said Owen in an email. "At the completion of the shift change, approximately 1,000 workers will have returned to site, again following the plans and protocols endorsed by Manitoba Health and the Chief Medical Officer.
"We and the project contractors are minimizing the number of out-of-province travellers. To be absolutely clear, we are not bringing in new workers — we are bringing back returning workers to the project."
Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.