Rogue Hydro needs to learn who’s boss
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.