A $6.5 billion hydro dam project was approved by the Manitoba government this month - but with strict conditions attached to monitor and protect the environment.
“The Clean Environment Commission conducted an independent, thorough review of the Keeyask proposal and after hearing from the public, recommended the proposal was ready to be licensed,” said Manitoba Conservation and Water Stewardship Minister Gord Mackintosh.
“We embrace the recommendation and want to go further to protect the environment as we build Manitoba’s future.”
The project has faced some stern opposition. Last month the Manitoba Metis Federation accused the province of running “roughshod” over their constitutional rights in a rush to export energy to the U.S.
In a release, David Chartrand, president of the federation, said they will fight the proposed Keeyask generating station and the transmission line that goes along with it.
“This is the largest land swap we’ll see happening, where we lose our rights to the land, since 1870,” Chartrand said. “We’re losing 64 square kilometres. This has a massive effect on us.”
While the project’s approval was recommended by the Manitoba Clean Environment Commission, its report outlined strict conditions for protecting habitat.
Officials said the 165 conditions attached to the license make it the strictest of its kind.
Stocking lake sturgeon for at least 50 years, monitoring bald eagle nesting areas, tracking caribou populations, producing annual environmental reports, recording mercury levels and providing the public with project information were just some of the conditions.
The Keeyask Generation Project is a network of dams and dykes with a power generation facility and spillway on the Nelson River at Gull Rapids upstream of Stephens Lake.
The project was proposed by the Keeyask Hydropower Limited Partnership – a partnership between Manitoba Hydro, the Tataskweyak First Nation, the York Factory First Nation, the War Lake Cree Nation and the Fox Lake Cree Nation.
The partnership plans to build a powerhouse, service bay complex, three dams, a spillway and two dykes.
The intent is to create a reservoir that will extend 42 kilometres upstream.
The project also includes supporting infrastructure, such as temporary facilities required for the construction of the project, and some permanent infrastructure, including access roads, a communication tower, safety and security facilities, and boat and boat landings.
According to the commission’s report, it is expected to take seven years from the beginning of construction on temporary dams and rock groins until the station will be in full service.
An additional year of infrastructure decommissioning and site rehabilitation is included in the schedule.
First, a series of temporary dams will be built to isolate the north and central channels of the river, in order to allow them to be drained.
The river’s flow will then be led through the south channel, which carries about 80 per cent of the river’s flow.
With the north and central channels dry, construction can begin on the powerhouse, the 1.6 kilometre central dam that connects the powerhouse and the spillway and the smaller north dam, which connects the powerhouse to the shore on the north side of the river.
Trees will be cleared from the reservoir the first winter after construction is underway and will continue for about five years to clear 3,600 hectares of forest. Roads will also be constructed.
Temporary barriers will also be built to drain parts of the south channel to facilitate construction on the spillway.
When the spillway is complete, water can be routed through it and the barrier can be removed. More temporary dams will allow workers to build the south dam, the powerhouse, the two dykes.
Once the powerhouse gates are completed and shut, workers can begin the 14-month task of filling the reservoir up to 159 metres. The first powerhouse can then be commissioned and boats will start patrolling the area for hazardous debris.