First Nation's fight with Hydro leaves family without power

A family in the remote Manitoba community of Cross Lake is without electricity or heat, as it is caught in the middle of a dispute between the local First Nation and Manitoba Hydro over unpaid bills.

Manitoba Hydro won't go to Cross Lake First Nation in dispute over unpaid bills

At least two homes in the northern Manitoba community of Cross Lake are without electricity, as they are caught in the middle of a dispute between the local First Nation and Manitoba Hydro over unpaid bills. 1:44

A family in the remote Manitoba community of Cross Lake is without electricity or heat, as it is caught in the middle of a dispute between the local First Nation and Manitoba Hydro.

Kathy Muskego says she and her family have been without power since Thursday, after a fuse burnt out at a nearby transformer.

Kathy Muskego and her husband Ernest are without power in a dispute between their community, Cross Lake, and Manitoba Hydro. (Jenny Muskego)

Manitoba Hydro says it has not been servicing the reserve because some residents have threatened its workers, while the band council says the utility isn't going there because hundreds of people owe money for old bills.

Muskego said even though she pays her Hydro bills, the utility refuses to conduct any repairs in Cross Lake.

"I'm paying for everybody's mistakes," Muskego said Sunday.

For now, Muskego said she's using a generator, but that's getting expensive — since Thursday, she has had to pay $160 for gas to keep it running, she said.

"It's running in my bedroom all night. That's all I hear when I sleep," she said.

Hydro barred from disconnecting homes

A small group of protesters gathered at the side of a highway in Cross lake on Monday, calling on Manitoba Hydro to fix the burnt-out transformer.

A total of two homes on the reserve have been without power since Thursday because of the problem. Customers in both homes have been up to date on their Hydro bills.

This heater is how Kathy Muskego is keeping her home warm, since there's no power in her home in Cross Lake. (Jenny Muskego)

Tommy Monias, a Cross Lake First Nation council representative, told CBC News that 281 people in the community have not paid their Hydro bills, with some owing thousands of dollars stretching back years.

Four houses had their power disconnected over unpaid bills, so band officials sent Manitoba Hydro a letter in September ordering it not to send crews to the reserve to disconnect any more homes.

A Manitoba Hydro spokesperson says crews won't go to Cross Lake because staff have been threatened by people there.

"All normal services have been halted at Cross Lake because collection agents [from Cross Lake] have been threatened and [the] Hydro office has been blockaded because of collection activity," the spokesperson stated in an email to CBC News.

Coun. David Muswagon denied claims that the band told Hydro workers to get off the reserve altogether.

"At not one point in time did we say, 'Leave.' All we said was, 'You are not to disconnect at this time until this matter is dealt with people with authority in Hydro,'" he said.

While Monias said people should not have to suffer, he admitted that paying Hydro customers with problems — like Muskego — will have to suffer for now.

"If that's the case, I guess that will be the case, and I'm saying that's the way it is," he said.

Discussions underway

First Nation officials and Manitoba Hydro say they are in discussions to resolve the dispute. Chief Cathy Merrick says the band wants to work something out with the power utility.

"We have to be given time. Like, we're new to this whole Hydro issue … and we need to get our ducks in a row," she said.

Late on Monday, the First Nation sent Manitoba Hydro a letter granting crews "safe passage of Manitoba Hydro employees to and from their workplaces at Cross Lake but not to disconnect any further until we can resolve it at a meeting" to be scheduled by both parties.

"Work activities to and from the worksite includes responses to normal and emergency operation and maintenance to upkeep of [the] Manitoba Hydro Service system," the letter states in part.

Frank Whitehead, the NDP MLA for The Pas, said he would do his best on Monday to have Muskego's electricity restored.

"I would not want to see paying customers suffer from this, and I want to see service restored, but it has to be done through discussions with the local government," he said Sunday.

"I don't want people to suffer because of the disputes," he added.

"I represent the government, but I'm also the MLA and I represent the people there, too. I want to see a [resolution] on the issue as soon as possible."

In the meantime, Muskego said she's worried about the weather getting colder. Overnight temperatures in Cross Lake have already dipped below 0 C, she said.

"The snow's going to be falling anytime now, and I can't heat up my house with a little heater," she said.


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