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Province OK's Beaconia boat channel

Cottager feels snubbed by process

The province has given the green light for a private boat channel at Beaconia on Lake Winnipeg, almost two years after area residents complained it would destroy a lakeside marsh.

In a Dec. 28 letter to Dave Crabb and Candace Neufeld, Conservation Minister Gord Mackintosh said the channel, originally dug in the winter of 2010, will not degrade the rest of the marsh or other habitat.

"Indeed, there may be positive outcomes for habitat diversity," Mackintosh said in dismissing Crabb and Neufeld's appeal under the Environment Act to block the project.

Crabb said Monday he's offended by Mackintosh's action in that it appears to contradict what the province has promoted in protecting Lake Winnipeg and fragile wetlands.

"The way it's been handled is that we're just an annoyance," said Crabb. "Somehow we have scientists in this province who say there will be no damage. That's what I find most offensive."

Crabb said the excavation for the 600-metre-long channel wiped out trees, including osprey and eagle nests, and has forever altered the shoreline.

"What's really disturbing is how hypocritical this decision is," said Crabb.

Cottager Robert Rettie built the channel to better protect his two watercraft. He has a summer residence nearby.

Prior to beginning excavation work, Rettie received approval from the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans, which oversees projects on major lakes and waterways, and the Selkirk and District Planning Area Board.

But the Manitoba government halted the project after several area cottagers and the Eastern Beaches Conservation Coalition complained. It ordered a provincial environmental review take place before any work could continue. Cottagers like Crabb want the channel returned to its natural state.

In his letter, Mackintosh said the environmental review found no negative impacts to Lake Winnipeg are expected from the channel project.

"The Environment Act licence satisfactorily addressed erosion, sedimentation, revegetation, construction timing during sensitive periods for birds and wildlife, and the use and maintenance of the project," Mackintosh said.

Crabb said he, along with representatives from the Lake Winnipeg Foundation and Manitoba Wildlands, want to meet with Mackintosh to see the scientific background that supports his decision, in particular the information that says the channel could see "positive outcomes for habitat diversity."

A spokesman for Mackintosh said Monday the minister was not immediately available.

"I really feel the public has been snubbed by this process," Crabb said. "How do you explain to the public that you are trying to protect and increase the awareness of important wetlands and the health of Lake Winnipeg when they say it is OK to dig them up and destroy them?"

Mackintosh also said in his letter that because of the Beaconia project, the province has strengthened its protection of wetlands.

"While the beginning of this project pre-dated current policy, the Environment Act licence provides similar protection to the Beaconia Marsh from this directly adjacent project," Mackintosh said.

"Department staff will continue to monitor the project area to ensure that future activities comply with regulatory requirements."

Mackintosh's decision on the Beaconia boat channel comes as his department examines a bid by Sun Gro Horticulture to develop a peat mine farther north in Hecla/Grindstone Provincial Park.

Environmental groups, park cottagers and Manitoba's Liberal and Green party leaders have condemned the idea of a peat mine in the park.

Besides worries peat mining near Lake Winnipeg will exacerbate the water's nutrient problems, the Conservation department staff have expressed concerns the proposed project could create a fire risk and disturb important moose habitat.

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