Clean Environment Commission to hear another request to delay Bipole III hearings

Less than a week after Manitoba’s Clean Environment Commission (CEC) denied three petitions to delay environmental hearings on the C$3.3bn Bipole III transmission project, a fourth group plans to ask the commission for more time before commencing the hearings.

The Manitoba Métis Federation, which identifies itself as the official political representative for the Métis Nation’s Manitoba Métis Community, had originally planned to appeal to the committee on Aug. 30, but subsequently requested a delay until Sept.11.

While the Federation did not respond to TransmissionHub’s request for more information about its complaint or the specific reasons for their request to delay, testimony presented at the CEC’s Aug. 16 hearing suggests the reasons would be similar to those presented by the Peguis First Nation.

In its petition, the Peguis First Nation asked for a delay of at least 120 days to allow the Crown “time to discharge its duty to consult Peguis First Nation in a meaningful and adequate way and permit further consideration of the nature and extent of the First Nation’s participation in the hearing process.”

Before issuing its Aug. 31 decision denying the Peguis petition, the CEC consulted with the Manitoba Department of Justice, which said the matter was outside the commission’s jurisdiction.

“Because the CEC process is a public process, the government does not consider the CEC public hearings to be an appropriate vehicle for Crown-Aboriginal consultations,” the DOJ is quoted in the ruling. “Instead consultations are being undertaken directly between representatives of the Provincial Crown and First Nations and Aboriginal communities.”

In its ruling denying the Peguis petition, the CEC concurred. “It is not the commission’s job to tell the Crown how to conduct its business,” the order said. “This includes the content, the process and the timing of the Crown’s consultations.”

In addition, the CEC on Aug. 30 issued two rulings dealing with requests for delay by the Bipole III coalition and the Consumers Association of Canada (CAC). Both organizations argued that additional time was needed to review, digest, and respond to some 10,000 pages of documents accumulated in the case.

In the eight-page rulings on the two petitions, signed by chair Terry Sargeant on behalf of the five panel members who heard the arguments, the panel stated that it appreciated the complexity of the case before it. “The panel recognizes that the Bipole project is not insignificant in its size and in the amount and scope of the materials provided,” the CEC stated. “The panel also recognizes that there is much work involved in preparing for the hearings.”

However, the panel said the time allotted was in line with the time allotted for similar projects that were subject to CEC hearings.

Meanwhile, the Environmental Approvals Branch (EAB) of Manitoba’s Conservation and Water Stewardship agency is recommending that hearings on the project proceed.

In an Aug. 31 letter to CEC’s Sargeant obtained by TransmissionHub, EAB director Tracey Braun said concerns raised during a review of the environmental impact statement (EIS) for the proposed project “have been resolved … or can be addressed through licensing conditions,” except for the proposed locations of four short segments of the transmission project.

Braun noted that a final decision on the location of the four segments of line “can be made upon the completion of the hearings.”

Calling the EIS and related filings “sufficient for the purposes of proceeding to a hearing for ongoing public review of the project,” Braun recommended that the CEC “proceed with the public hearings for this project.”

The hearings before the CEC are part of its Environmental Impact Assessment process and will be open to the public. The project will also be the subject of a Crown-Aboriginal consultation process.

The proposed project has been a topic of controversy for several years.

In 2007, the provincial government chose a route for Bipole III along the west side of the province, in an alignment longer than the route originally identified by project developer Manitoba Hydro.

The route was selected to increase the reliability of the system without compromising an intact boreal forest that spans the Manitoba-Ontario border, which is a candidate for a UNESCO World Heritage designation, a spokesperson for the Manitoba cabinet told TransmissionHub.

The Bipole III project will improve reliability, increase capacity for future development, and sell surplus power to customers in the United States, according to Manitoba Hydro.

It will run 1,384 kilometers (860 miles) and will cost more than C$3.3bn (US$3.3bn) to build. Subject to regulatory approval, the project schedule calls for construction to get underway in late 2012, with a 2017 in-service date, according to Manitoba Hydro’s project web site.