Hydro told to take environment, Indigenous people into account
THE Clean Environment Commission has urged Manitoba Hydro to avoid or limit any effects its projects have on areas important to Indigenous people.
In approving a proposed transmission line to Minnesota, the commission told the Crown corporation to pay attention to the wishes of Indigenous people as it constructs the line, and to continue paying attention on future projects.
The commission wants the provincial Sustainable Development department to work closely with Hydro and the public to monitor the effects of the new transmission line for at least 10 years.
Faced with running the transmission line through farmland and residential development, or through environmentally sensitive forest and wetland areas in southeastern Manitoba, the commission opted to take some of both.
The commission said its decision was a “trade-off between differing viewpoints.”
“Some arguments were provided to the panel that Manitoba Hydro developments should be moved onto ‘sparsely populated land’ (Crown land), in part so that ‘natural’ habitats could remain on private property. These arguments are perfectly understandable from the perspective of people who work hard to build an agricultural operation or a home in a rural setting which they want to protect. At the same time, to simply move development further into the ‘sparsely populated’ lands would accelerate the fragmentation” of those areas, wrote the commission.
Hydro is reviewing the report, media relations officer Bruce Owen said.
“Manitoba Hydro will continue to engage Indigenous peoples and area residents as it moves along in the regulatory review process. Manitoba Hydro will continue to have an open door to conversations about the project with those interested,” he said.
“Further, Manitoba Hydro has had, and plans to continue to have, a strong working relationship with Manitoba Sustainable Development.”
An official with the department said the government will talk to Hydro before commenting.
The commission acknowledged Hydro has improved its communications since hearings five years ago for the Bipole III megaproject.
Nevertheless, the commission said, it recommended “Hydro take steps, in future projects, to facilitate Aboriginal traditional knowledge and land and resource use studies being completed in time to be incorporated into the environmental impact statement.
“Manitoba Hydro (should) establish and support a monitoring advisory group composed of nominees of First Nations communities and the Manitoba Metis Federation and representatives of local residents, interested non-governmental organizations and academic researchers, which will provide input into monitoring and management of the (right-of-way),” said the ruling.
“The commission will be encouraging Manitoba Hydro to become a leader in right-of-way management and in engagement of affected communities and landowners in the ongoing monitoring of the project,” the commission said.
“The commission will propose that Manitoba Hydro and the Department of Sustainable Development, with the agreement of the communities, integrate the various communities and interests into one monitoring process to lessen polarizing points of view, and provide for a process that brings together diverse perspectives in order to help minimize project impacts.”
The commission also instructed Hydro to avoid harm to certain species when constructing its lines.
“Manitoba Hydro (should) conduct field surveys of the eastern tiger salamander and mottled duskywing butterfly, in areas of likely habitat, prior to construction,” the commission said, and “expand point-count and breeding bird surveys, to include the least bittern and the short-eared owl, prior to construction.” THE Manitoba-Minnesota Transmission Project reinforces the need to rewrite environmental protection legislation, says Wilderness Committee Manitoba campaign co-ordinator Eric Reder.
"The (electricity transmission line) is going through a transition area, between open developed and reasonably intact forest. This area is rich in biodiversity. It's a tough thing to see more development," Reder said Thursday.
"The Wilderness Committee perspective is that we would rather see development in already developed land. There is a visible and finite cost, which we pay to the landowners. The loss of biodiversity, at some point, becomes an invaluable loss."
Reder said the Manitoba Clean Environment Commission's (CEC) call for enhanced licensing requirements “echoes the Wilderness Committee call from 2012 to rewrite the Environment Act. The previous (NDP) government actually finally agreed with us, after a lot of grief, and committed to rewrite the Environment Act."
A coalition representing the Consumers' Association of Canada and Winnipeg Harvest still has concerns, lawyer Joëlle Pastora Sala said.
She pointed out it's still up to Sustainable Development Minister Rochelle Squires to decide on implementing the CEC's recommendations.
"The MMTP was seen as pretty defensible among a package of troubled projects. The MMTP provides expanded access to the American market at peak times (for example, on particularly hot or cold days) and serves as a reliability backup for Manitoba (for example, in times of drought)," Sala said.
The project is 25 per cent over budget, she said. "The estimated project cost was in the range of
$350 million. It was revealed during the MMTP hearing process the updated total project cost estimate was $
"Despite this significant rise in project cost estimate, Manitoba Hydro did not conduct any subsequent analysis of project expenditures for materials and services during construction," Sala said.
Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Grand Chief Sheila North Wilson and renowned water-quality expert Eva Pip (a retired biology professor at the University of Winnipeg) were still studying the report Thursday.
The NDP will not be making any comment, said Rorie Mcleod Arnould, press secretary for leader Wab Kinew.
The Clean Environment Commission has approved a Manitoba-Minnesota transmission line.