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Stage now set for hydro line hearings

By: Jordan Ross

Posted: 05/26/2018 12:00 PM

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The Southeast Stakeholders Coalition has failed to convince the National Energy Board to shelve upcoming hearings over the Manitoba-Minnesota Transmission Project.

The hearings will commence June 4 in Winnipeg’s Radisson Hotel and proceed in two stages. A week’s worth of oral traditional evidence from Indigenous participants will be heard first, followed by arguments from other parties in late June, Matt Groza, an NEB process advisor, said this week.

Turmoil inside Manitoba Hydro caused ripple effects that threatened to delay or derail the hearings, which were initially expected to begin in late May following a December order from the NEB.

On March 21, all nine non-government members of the Crown corporation’s board resigned over what they said was Premier Brian Pallister’s year-long refusal to meet with them to discuss pressing issues.

Pointing to the disarray, the Southeast Stakeholders Coalition, a grassroots landowner group that wants the MMTP quashed or rerouted, filed a March 26 motion arguing Hydro’s board exodus, and news it planned to offer a $67 million compensation package to the Manitoba Metis Federation to quell opposition to the project, constituted grounds for adjourning the hearings.

The SSC reasoned the provincial government has lost confidence in Manitoba Hydro, making the hearings a waste of resources, and called the compensation deal a misuse of public funds.

The coalition also said hearing participants now need extra time to gather more information on Manitoba Hydro’s finances, and referenced pending litigation over the MMTP as a further reason to postpone the hearings.

Eight parties responded to the SSC’s motion. Roseau River Anishinabe First Nation was among four Manitoba First Nations that said they supported an adjournment, while two other parties took no position. Peguis First Nation and Manitoba Hydro called for the NEB to dismiss the request.

On April 18, the NEB denied the SSC’s motion, noting those who supported it did so largely for their own reasons. Furthermore, Manitoba Hydro remains committed to building the MMTP, and the litigation is "speculative in nature," the board ruled.

Four "commenters" and 12 "interveners" are scheduled to present at the upcoming hearings, which are not intended to retread arguments and evidence delivered during a round of Manitoba Clean Environment Commission hearings last year.

The SSC and Roseau River Anishinabe First Nation are listed among the interveners, while commenters include RM of Springfield chief administrative officer Russell Phillips and RM of La Broquerie resident David Dawson.

Economic, environmental, landowner, and Indigenous aspects of the project are expected to be discussed at the hearings, which follow the CEC’s 160-page report, published last September.

The CEC found Manitoba Hydro should have consulted stakeholders much earlier in its planning process, but proposed no routing changes and recommended the MMTP be issued an environmental license.

The proposed 500-kilovolt transmission line is estimated to cost $453 million, and would transmit electricity 121 kilometres from the Dorsey Converter Station east of Winnipeg to Minnesota’s Great Northern Transmission Line, passing through the RMs of Springfield, Tache, Ste Anne, La Broquerie, and Piney in the process.

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