POLITICS

Manitoba First Nation says hydro development occurring without proper benefits

05/07/2015 02:54 EDT | Updated 05/07/2016 05:59 EDT
WINNIPEG - A northern Manitoba First Nation said Thursday it may not get its fair share of benefits from a massive transmission line being built by the province's energy utility, and hinted at trying to delay the megaproject.

"There have been some discussions ... but to no satisfaction of the duty to consult and accommodate, and in that respect, to maximize opportunity within our traditional territory," said Chief Michael Constant of the Opaskwayak Cree Nation.

"I am officially declaring stoppage of related works and negotiations until such time as our outstanding issues are addressed."

Opaskwayak, near The Pas, has some 5,800 members. Its traditional lands will be crossed by about 165 kilometres of the planned Bipole Three transmission line, a $4 billion project that is to bring power from northern generating stations to homes and businesses in the south.

Manitoba Hydro has been in discussions with all First Nations along the line route since 2008 about economic and environmental impacts of the project. A spokesman said Thursday talks with Opaskwayak appeared to be going well.

"I know that (Opaskwayak) did partner with a Korea-based firm to submit a pre-qualification bid on construction, so there have been opportunities," Scott Powell said.

"There are a number of First Nations along the route and a number of them have secured contracts," he added, pointing to a recent bid by the Pine Creek First Nation on land-clearing as an example.

Manitoba Hydro aims to get the transmission line up and running by 2018. It originally planned to run a shorter, direct line down the east side of Lake Winnipeg. But due in part to fears that First Nations in the area would fight the project in court, the NDP government ordered Hydro to reroute the line far to the west — almost to the Saskatchewan boundary — where it will then have to loop southward and back east.

Grand Chief Derek Nepinak of the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs said contracts are starting to be awarded before First Nations communities are being assured that they will get proper economic benefits.

"We think the jobs that should be created out of this $4 billion opportunity should stay here at home. And most importantly, they should be designed to help our communities participate," Nepinak said.

"If they want to see the project go ahead, and if they don't want to see continuing escalating costs ... then they'd better get to the table with indigenous communities."