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Environmental hearing could delay Bipole III

Hydro looking at new timetable

Manitoba Hydro is looking at a possible delay in the construction of its controversial Bipole III transmission line project.

The Crown utility has said it wanted the 1,400-kilometre line in service by 2017, but that could be pushed back after an environmental hearing into the project was extended by about five months on Tuesday.

Manitoba Hydro spokesman Glenn Schneider said the extension of the Clean Environment Commission's (CEC) hearing could delay the start of work on the line, which is to run from Gillam in northern Manitoba to south of Winnipeg.

"It might, depending on the circumstances," Schneider said, adding Hydro is looking at a new construction timetable. "We may lose a couple of months of the winter construction season."

The hearing was extended when Hydro lawyer Douglas Bedford told the CEC that Hydro, reversing an earlier position, would file a supplemental environmental assessment on its revised route for Bipole III. The document will be filed on Jan. 28. The CEC had set Nov. 27 as the end of the hearing, but the supplemental information to be filed by Hydro extends the hearing into April.

Hydro filed documents recently saying it wanted to alter the line's route to bypass caribou and moose habitat. But it balked about filing a supplemental environmental assessment, saying by doing so it would jeopardize its target of having Bipole III in service by 2017.

"This isn't the Manitoba Hydro show," Manitoba Metis Federation (MMF) lawyer Jason Madden told the CEC panel, saying the Environment Act requires Hydro to file a supplemental assessment.

The CEC did not have the power to order Hydro to submit a supplemental environmental assessment -- only the province can do that under the act.

"We don't issue the (environmental) licences," CEC chairman Terry Sargeant said. "We offer advice and recommendations to the minister (Gord Mackintosh) who issues the licence.

"We also don't have the authority to tell Hydro what or how to do things. What our authority is, to sit in judgment if you will, of what Hydro puts on the table and it's always open to us, if they don't put sufficient information on the table, it's open to us to recommend to the minister that he not issue a licence."

Pine Creek First Nation acting Chief Charlie Bushie said the extension of the hearing gives Hydro time to properly consult with his community of 1,300 people.

Bipole III is to pass three kilometres west of Pine Creek and there is concern it will increase spring runoff on the Duck River, which passes through his community.

"We're already saturated," Bushie said.

"The risks are higher each year. We need a drainage plan. We need a proper commitment."

The CEC hearing continues today with a presentation by MMF president David Chartrand.

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