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Reeves lament loss of Hydro compensation

By: Jordan Ross

Posted: 03/10/2019 11:30 AM

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Three local reeves say they’re disappointed by Manitoba Hydro’s decision to cancel compensation packages offered to municipalities affected by a new transmission line to Minnesota.

"It was a bit nasty," La Broquerie reeve Lewis Weiss said of a Feb. 4 letter informing six local councils that the $4.2 million Community Benefit Program had been cancelled.

The funds, which were to be spread among the six RMs traversed by the $453 million Manitoba-Minnesota transmission line (La Broquerie, Piney, Stuartburn, Tache, Springfield, and Ste Anne), were retracted "in order to better align with broader government policy," wrote Maggie Bratland, a Hydro senior environmental specialist.

Compensation agreements with landowners weren’t affected by the decision.

In early 2017, Manitoba Hydro told municipalities the grants were intended for community projects that would benefit a large swath of the local population.

Weiss said La Broquerie stood to gain over $900,000 from the program, funds he termed "hush money" for encouraging municipalities to stay silent during the transmission project’s regulatory hearings.

Asked if council would’ve registered objections to the project in the absence of Hydro funds, Weiss replied, "I think so, because we were all opposed to it up until that point."

He said the provincial government likely pressured the debt-laden Crown corporation to "reel in" its spending.

Piney reeve Wayne Anderson shared that sentiment.

"It was the provincial government that stopped Hydro from doing it," he said. "It was kind of unexpected. We thought everything was going ahead."

But Piney council, which was promised "over $800,000," viewed the funds as straight compensation for the developable land consumed by the right-of-way.

"This community benefit that we asked for had nothing to do with hush money," Anderson said. "Hydro is using our roads all the time to maintain these (transmission lines)."

It was Piney council that first asked Hydro to offer grants to affected municipalities, pointing out a similar program was created for Bipole III communities.

David Kiansky, reeve of Stuartburn, said council hadn’t yet planned how to spend the $450,000 it was promised.

"And lucky we didn’t."

He speculated the funds could have built sidewalks and revitalized Vita’s arena, created a campground for Gardenton, and purchased public works machinery.

"That was a nice chunk of change," he said. "It would have been a great thing."

Kiansky wondered what the cancellation of a fund representing less than one percent of the MMTP’s total cost suggested about the project’s long-term viability.

"On such a big project, that’s small change."

In a statement, Crown Services Minister Colleen Mayer said her government "issued a clear directive to Manitoba Hydro" regarding community benefit agreements, which she contrasted with "adverse effect agreements," which "address real impacts" that can’t be mitigated by design or regulatory changes.

In an email, Manitoba Hydro spokesman Scott Powell said the Crown corporation wanted to align with the provincial government’s new position.

"As there were no agreements signed or formally in place, it is within Manitoba Hydro’s right to discontinue discussions (with municipalities)," Powell said via email.

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