08/14/2013 04:43 EDT | Updated 10/14/2013 05:12 EDT

Controversial Manitoba hydro line granted environmental licence with conditions

WINNIPEG - A controversial plan to build a new hydro line along the west side of Lake Manitoba has been given a green light.

The NDP government granted the plan — known as Bipole III — an environmental licence Wednesday following a recommendation last month from the Clean Environment Commission.

Conservation Minister Gord Mackintosh said the licence includes numerous conditions such as extensive wildlife monitoring and preservation of as much wetland, forest and farm land as possible. The 68 conditions make the licence one of the strictest in the country, he said.

"The conditions are clear — any actions that would compromise Manitoba's environment must be prevented or mitigated," Mackintosh said in a statement.

Manitoba Hydro must ensure species such as caribou, moose and white-tailed deer are protected. The hydro giant must also consult with farmers before towers are placed to minimize the impact on agriculture. Herbicides are only to be used as a last resort during construction.

The government says it will continue to listen to the concerns of aboriginal communities and will take those into account when considering other permits, Mackintosh said.

"Manitoba Hydro will be required to invest in traditional knowledge programs, which could include programs that promote trapping and harvesting in affected aboriginal communities," said the release.

The Clean Environment Commission, following 10 weeks of consultation last fall and this spring, recommended the transmission line be granted a licence. But the commission said it should not be given unless Manitoba Hydro improved its consultations, as well as environmental assessment and monitoring.

The transmission line — which is to span 1,400 kilometres — has raised the ire of farmers, aboriginal people and others who say the project is too expensive and needlessly intrudes on their lives.

Manitoba Hydro says the project, which is expected to cost almost $3.3 billion, is needed to make transmissions more reliable and to export more surplus power to the United States.

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier version said the route was along the west side of Lake Winnipeg.