Rogue Hy­dro needs to learn who’s boss

Winnipeg Free Press - - TANK - PETER KULCHYSKI

I RE­CENTLY led a group of pro­fes­sors, artists and ac­tivists on a tour of Hy­droaf­fected Indige­nous com­mu­ni­ties in north­ern Man­i­toba. It was an eye-opener. In en­vi­ron­men­tal hear­ings, Man­i­toba Hy­dro had promised a “light foot­print” on the trapline of my friend, the elder Noah Mas­san, near the con­struc­tion site of the new Keeyask dam.

In­stead, his trapline was dev­as­tated by road con­struc­tion, Bipole con­struc­tion, con­verter sta­tion con­struc­tion, quar­ries and clear­ing the land to be flooded. In South In­dian Lake, we found wa­ter lev­els were higher than ever, de­stroy­ing docks and scat­ter­ing boats far into the forests, cre­at­ing more ero­sion and dump­ing more trees into the lake.

Worse, dump­ing wa­ter through the Missi Falls con­trol struc­ture cre­ated a mas­sive flood along the Churchill River, drown­ing all the wildlife, in­clud­ing baby moose not yet strong enough to swim to shore, and de­stroy­ing nest­ing birds of all sorts. Imag­ine an­i­mals swim­ming des­per­ately in cir­cles un­til they drown, and you get the pic­ture.

Mean­while, in nearby Nisich­awayasihk Cree Na­tion, wa­ter lev­els are nearly as low as be­fore the Hy­dro flood­ing of the 1970s: beaver lodges are on dry land, ex­posed to preda­tors and leav­ing beavers high, dry and dead.

But what was most up­set­ting for me was a visit to the site of the Con­awapa Dam. In June 2014, the Pub­lic Util­i­ties Board (PUB) wisely rec­om­mended that “spend­ing on the Con­awapa Project and the North-South Trans­mis­sion Up­grade Project be dis­con­tin­ued im­me­di­ately and the projects ter­mi­nated.” I knew there was the ba­sis — foun­da­tions, out­door light­ing, a la­goon — for a camp at the Con­awapa site. I ex­pected to see ba­si­cally the same par­tially com­pleted ba­sis of a camp, per­haps with a few se­cu­rity guards.

Imag­ine my sur­prise to see a fully op­er­a­tional camp, lovely build­ings with recre­ational ameni­ties and all mod­ern con­ve­niences, not only in place but fully oc­cu­pied, judg­ing by all the trucks parked out­side. And Bipole 3 has been built right to the out­skirts of the site, clearcut­ting in­valu­able for­est (all bird and wildlife habi­tat). A con­verter sta­tion is also ob­vi­ously be­ing built.

What I found, and doc­u­mented with my poor pho­tog­ra­phy, was a fully in­dus­tri­ous project, op­er­at­ing at near ca­pac­ity. All this for a dam and trans­mis­sion project that have been for­mally re­jected by the prov­ince as eco­nom­i­cally in­fea­si­ble. Spend­ing on the Con­awapa project has very ob­vi­ously not been dis­con­tin­ued, but has pro­ceeded to the tune of mas­sive daily amounts as you read this. Mean­while, Hy­dro ap­pears be­fore the same PUB with hat in hand, plead­ing poverty, ask­ing for a rate in­crease.

In the cur­rent eco­nomic cli­mate of en­ergy pro­duc­tion, it is very hard to pre­dict the fu­ture. At Clean En­vi­ron­ment Com­mis­sion hear­ings into the Keeyask project, I heard Hy­dro of­fi­cials boast that their trea­sured project would re­duce coal use in the United States and thus con­trib­ute to the fight against cli­mate change.

Then, as it was clear the U.S. mar­ket had “soft­ened,” they boasted to the PUB some months later that they could sell their power to the pumps needed for pipe­lines (so much for cli­mate change!).

Keeyask was only ap­proved by the PUB be­cause of its “sunk costs” — so much money had been poured into it that it made poor eco­nomic sense to can­cel it at this time.

Clearly, Hy­dro is now play­ing the same game with Con­awapa. It wants to have so much in­vested in the dam that the PUB and Man­i­toba gov­ern­ment will even­tu­ally be forced to ap­prove it. Hence all the ex­pen­sive ac­tiv­ity at the site: throw­ing money at a project that was for­mally re­jected.

As Man­i­to­bans, we must teach the

Crown cor­po­ra­tion who is in charge. Not Man­i­toba Hy­dro, with its end­less over­con­fi­dent and often wrong “ex­perts” (Keeyask is now off-schedule and likely over-bud­get), but the peo­ple of Man­i­toba. In my view, we can only do this by forc­ing them to take down Bipole 3 where it runs to Con­awapa.

Dis­man­tle the camp and re­turn it to its for­mer sta­tus as bush. Re­move the con­verter sta­tion. By do­ing this, they will learn a valu­able les­son: the peo­ple of Man­i­toba are in charge. And we will have re­ha­bil­i­tated and saved a small but pre­cious part of Man­i­toba’s fu­ture her­itage of eco­log­i­cal wealth, a ba­sis of the Indige­nous cul­tural wealth we con­trib­ute as global cit­i­zens.

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