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Province coy on timetable for Keeyask hydro plan

Keeyask Dam Hydro-Electric Generating station.

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Keeyask Dam Hydro-Electric Generating station.

The province is keeping its cards close to its vest on a timetable for formally approving the proposed $6.5-billion Keeyask hydro generating station.

Conservation and Water Stewardship Minister Gord Mackintosh said he will await the outcome of two more consultation processes before he decides whether to issue an environmental licence.

The Manitoba Clean Environment Commission (CEC) report on the massive dam project was formally unveiled on Wednesday. It recommends the government issue an environmental licence for the project -- with several conditions, including increased efforts to mitigate the loss of wildlife habitat.

Mackintosh called the 192-page document, details of which were published in Wednesday's Free Press, "a very robust report that gave good consideration" to Keeyask's potential environmental impacts.

He said, however, a report by the Public Utilities Board on the economic implications of the project and the results of the government's ongoing consultations with First Nations and Métis people on Keeyask -- both due next month -- will factor into the final wording of any environmental licence.

The CEC made 20 licensing recommendations while giving the project its blessing, but they are not binding on the government. Mackintosh said he will consider the recommendations in the context of the other two reports.

"We have no hesitation in strengthening certain areas of (environmental) concern. We went far beyond the licence recommendations on Bipole (III)," he said, referring to a new northern hydro transmission line.

Manitoba Hydro has said it would like to begin construction of Keeyask this summer. The 695-megawatt generating station, if approved, would begin producing electricity in 2019.

Mackintosh didn't want to speculate when approval might come, other than it will be done on a "timely basis."

"I may have further inquiries that I want staff to follow up on," he said. "The licence has to be done right."

Aboriginal groups who either oppose or have serious reservations about Keeyask lamented Wednesday the project's approval is a forgone conclusion.

"We knew from the beginning that the CEC was handcuffed and limited in the scope of its review," Manitoba Metis Federation president David Chartrand said in a statement.

"The decision to move forward on Keeyask had already been made," said Chartrand, who fears the dam and accompanying transmission line harm Métis harvesting and cultural activities.

Manitoba Hydro has already spent $1 billion in preparation for Keeyask, he said. "They (Hydro and the province) can't back out now."

Peguis First Nation, which claims treaty rights that extend provincewide, is also opposed to the project.

Peguis said the environmental approval process was flawed because it focused too much on the immediate area around the proposed dam as opposed to Keeyask's long-term effects over a broader region.

"We felt that there was not enough (study) done to proceed with the recommended approval," said Peguis spokesman Lloyd Stevenson.

A Manitoba environmental group that expressed concerns about the Clean Environment Commission hearings process said it was happy with a CEC recommendation all future environmental assessments of the project be made public and the Keeyask website be maintained for the life of the dam.

"We congratulate the CEC on these recommendations and urge minister Mackintosh to make sure all Keeyask reports are made public on a timely basis," said Gaile Whelan Enns of Manitoba Wildlands. "This would be a first, as it is not happening for the Wuskwatim dam, or any previous project."

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

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