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Hydro to file supplemental environmental assessment on revised Bipole III route

The Manitoba Hydro Building on Portage Avenue as seen from from Central Park.

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The Manitoba Hydro Building on Portage Avenue as seen from from Central Park. (WINNIPEG FREE PRESS ARCHIVES)

Manitoba Hydro will file a supplemental environmental assessment on its revised route for the controversial Bipole III transmission line.

Hydro lawyer Douglas Beford told the Clean Environment Commission (CEC) this morning at the Winnipeg Convention Centre that the material would be filed in the coming weeks.

Beford also asked the CEC to adjourn its environmental hearing on the bipole project to Jan. 28.

The adjournment does not delay presentations to the CEC this week by the Manitoba Metis Federation and Manitoba branch of the Consumers Association of Canada, but it will delay the preparation of the CEC's final report on the project.

Hydro filed documents about two weeks ago that it wanted to alter its route for the 1,400-kilometre line to take into account fragile caribou and moose habitat.

However, the Metis and Pine Creek First Nation complained to the CEC that Hydro was obligated under the province's Environment Act to submit additional information explaining its revised route for public review.

Hydro at first balked, saying by doing that it would jeopardize its target of having the Bipole III in service by 2017.

"This isn't the Manitoba Hydro show," Metis federation lawyer Jason Madden told the CEC panel, adding the Enviroment Act was clear.

As the CEC hearing heads into its seventh week, a growing chorus of critics had lined up to say they have not been properly consulted by Manitoba Hydro on the route changes.

The critics also charge that the Selinger government and Hydro "are playing fast and loose" with environmental laws in a bid to push through approval of the Bipole III project as quickly as possible. To back that up they say Manitoba Hydro recently moved three huge transformers for the end-converter station of the new Bipole line before the CEC approved the project.

What raised the ire of the MFF and others was that Manitoba Hydro had declined to file a supplemental assessment for its revised route for Bipole III, changes it made two weeks ago. The changes steer the line away from caribou grounds in the north and moose habitat further south. It also brings the line closer to Pine Creek First Nation on Lake Winnipegosis.

Manitoba Wildlands director Gaile Whelan Enns said Manitoba Hydro ought to have known it must file a supplemental assessment.

"A supplemental filing needs to be reviewed and not just by the CEC in a room somewhere," she said.

Madden said Conservation Minister Gord Mackintosh should be aware of the situation as his department oversees environmental licensing.

The province's director of the environmental approvals branch, Tracey Braun, said in a Nov. 9 letter sent to the MMF and others that she believed it's necessary for Manitoba Hydro to prepare a written supplemental report, but she stopped short of ordering Hydro to do it.

"The buck stops with the minister and Manitoba Conservation," Madden said. "They shouldn't be leaving it to Manitoba Hydro to do whatever it wants. Public consultation doesn't happen in the backrooms between Manitoba Conservation and Manitoba Hydro."

bruce.owen@freepress.mb.ca

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Updated on Tuesday, November 13, 2012 at 10:23 AM CST:
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