Two Manitoba First Nations are asking the provincial government to hold off on granting a final licence to Manitoba Hydro’s Churchill River Diversion until their concerns are addressed.
The Churchill River Diversion, which has been functional since 1976, brings more water to Hydro’s generating station on the lower Nelson River, which is helpful for power generation. It has been operating on an interim licence, but the province is considering granting a full licence.
However, O-Pipon-Na-Piwin and Tataskweyak Cree Nations want their concerns addressed before a full licence is issued.
The First Nations said some of the issues brought about by the Churchill River Diversion include ruined shorelines, disruptions to local fish habitats, and declines in commercial fisheries.
Les Dysart, the lead on Hydro Issues for O-Pipon-Na-Piwin Cree Nation, said all of their consultation proposals, work plans and budgets have been rejected.
“The Chief Shirley Ducharme has requested at least three times in the last two months for a meeting with the minister, Sarah Guillemard, so we can talk about the concerns and the lack of consultation, a flawed process and try and get it done. All we’ve got is just resounding silence from the minister’s office.”
A spokesperson for Guillemard, the conservation and climate minister, told CTV News Winnipeg that construction concluded on the Churchill River Diversion in 1976, and Crown consultations on a possible final licence began in 2009.
“The minister is reviewing the consultation summary materials and will make a licensing decision very soon with a commitment to ongoing engagement with Indigenous communities,” the spokesperson said,
In a statement, Manitoba Hydro said it is aware of the First Nations’ concerns, and has been working with the communities to address these issues.
It added that the granting of a final licence is a government decision.
“It should be noted that consultations under Section 35 are performed by the province,” the statement said.
“Our understanding is that has been ongoing with communities for more than a decade.”
Hydro said it has settlement agreements with all communities affected by the Churchill River Diversion, and that these agreements are based on the operation of the Churchill River Diversion with the augmented flow program in place.
“These agreements have been – and will continue to [be]- fully honoured by Manitoba Hydro,” the Crown corporation said.
“This includes implementing various programs such as the Waterways Management Program (includes boat patrol, safe ice trails and debris management programs), shoreline remediation, and other efforts. In some cases, where mitigation and remediation have not been possible, compensation has been (and in many cases continues to be) provided to individuals, resource user groups and communities.”
The Manitoba Liberals have also joined in with the First Nations to ask the province to hold off on granting the final licence.
Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont said Hydro needs to show that it takes the First Nations’ concerns seriously.
“All we are asking is that the Government and Manitoba Hydro do the right thing and respect the wishes of these First Nations and treat them fairly,” he said.
In support of the two First Nations, the Liberals are calling for:
The two First Nations to have a say in decision-making regarding the Churchill River Diversion;
Financial support for the communities;
Full mitigation of the adverse impacts of the Churchill River Diversion;
A return to the originally-approved licence and suspension of the augmented flow program;
Increased flows down the de-watered Lower Churchill River;
Fines to Manitoba Hydro for any violations of the licence;
Measures to ensure there aren’t any massive unnatural flushes of water down the Lower Churchill River; and
The informed consent of the First Nation in any future licence alterations.