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Pallister challenges timetable of lake outlet

Brian Pallister doesn't think it should take seven years to build outlets  from Lake  Manitoba.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES Enlarge Image

Brian Pallister doesn't think it should take seven years to build outlets from Lake Manitoba.

If the NDP can build the Bipole III hydroelectric transmission line in six years, why does the province need seven to build a new outlet for Lake Manitoba?

That was the question Opposition Leader Brian Pallister asked Thursday in comparing the two projects, one that will cover 1,380 kilometres and the other as much as 23 km.

The Progressive Conservative leader said there are only about 30 private landowners the province needs to consult for the Lake Manitoba outlet compared to more than 400 for the Bipole line, which is to run from northern Manitoba to just east of Winnipeg.

Pallister said unlike many people who will see Bipole III traverse their land, Lake Manitoba-area landowners would welcome the additional outlet as it would reduce the threat of flooding to farmland and cottages.

"I'm not comparing apples to apples in that sense because, of course, they are two different proposals, two different projects," he said. "The magnitude of the two projects is not even close.

"My point being, it's achievable. You can get this project done if you have a will to get the project done."

Pallister has said the province could pick, design and build the outlet in as little as three years, including conducting mandatory consultations with four First Nations.

While the Bipole III debate has gone on for more than a decade, the Clean Environment Commission approved it in June last year with a completion date in 2017, Pallister said. The province first asked for the CEC to hold public hearings Dec. 5, 2011.

The province has said it believes it needs about seven years to build the two permanent outlets for Lake Manitoba. It has shortlisted six options for a new outlet for Lake Manitoba and two for neighbouring Lake St. Martin, and is to begin public consultations on them this fall.

It says the seven-year estimate includes design and engineering, public and First Nations consultations, regulatory approvals, land assembly and construction. The estimated cost is about $300 million with actual construction taking about three years. The province will also first have to build a new road to the Lake St. Martin outlet, and depending on the route picked for the Lake Manitoba outlet, will have to realign roadways and build new bridges.

Infrastructure and Transportation Minister Steve Ashton has said the clock started ticking on that seven-year timetable in early 2013 with the release of two independent reviews, one that examined water levels on Lake Manitoba and Lake St. Martin and the other the province's handling of the 2011 flood.

Ashton has also said a new Lake Manitoba outlet won't open until the Lake St. Martin channel to Lake Winnipeg is fully operational.

bruce.owen@freepress.mb.ca

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