More than 50 home and camp owners came out to NextBridge Infrastructure’s open house Monday night to discuss concerns and ask questions about a plan to run 400 kilometres of new hydro line between Wawa and Thunder Bay.
About 15 NextBridge representatives were on hand to field questions and document residents' concerns regarding the company’s East-West Tie Transmission Project at the meeting, which was held at the Current River Community Centre in Thunder Bay.
After poring over a map of the area where his camp is located with a NextBridge land agent, Stan Shpulak told CBC News he liked what he’s heard so far.
"Looks like [the hydro transmission line] misses our property. [It] doesn't go through our property, so it's all good."
The reeve of Dorion township, Ed Chambers, said his community suggested an alternative route for the hydro line at a previous meeting — and the company appeared to have listened.
"I see on a map here tonight that they're looking at — I'm not guaranteeing it's going to happen — but at least they're looking at another option whereby very few residents will be impacted,” he said.
"It'll be going through the community, but ... it'll be diverted a little bit out of the residential area."
Concerns about property values
But Zoie Yurick said she wasn’t so optimistic.
She and her neighbours at Loon Lake are worried about possible effects on the environment, recreational activities and their property values.
"Another ... 185 foot-wide swath cut out of the forest is going to be highly visible with this new power line,” she said.
Yurick spent a long time with a NextBridge representative discussing the possibility of moving the line to a less-visible location.
She's said she’s glad the company is listening, but doesn't yet know if that will translate into action.
NextBridge is currently working on an environmental assessment, and hopes to have that completed in 2015
Construction is planned for 2016-2017, with the aim to have the transmission system in service in 2018.
'A two-way street'
The Ontario Power Authority has said that expanding the transmission system between Wawa and Thunder Bay is the best way to maintain a reliable long-term supply of energy to northwestern Ontario, particularly as industrial activities, especially mining, will increase electricity demand.
NextBridge Infrastructure project manager Oliver Romaniuk said the purpose of the open houses is to get comments from the public, as well as update them on the project.
"It's really a two-way street,” he said. "We try to bring one [expert] from each of the major subject areas [e.g., environmental, engineering].”
He said if the representatives don’t know the answer to a resident's question, they note it and get back to them later.
The last series of public consultations on the project was in December 2013.
Romaniuk noted the new hydro transmission project will follow the existing hydro route as much as possible; however the company is considering alternative routes proposed by the public — like Dorion Township did — during the environmental assessment process.
For example, after consultation with Parks Canada, NextBridge may go around Pukaskwa National Park, rather than following the original plan to go through it.
NextBridge is also consulting with two affected First Nations — Pays Plat and Michipicoten — about how the line will be routed.
More open houses will be held in other communities along the north shore this week. Representatives will be in Dorion on Tuesday, then Schreiber on Wednesday, Marathon on Thursday, White River on Friday and Wawa on Saturday.