Native leader calls for halt to hydro dam upgrades

A First Nation near Thompson, Man., wants Manitoba Hydro to stop upgrading the turbines on a nearby dam until potential effects of the work are examined.

A First Nation near Thompson, Man., wants Manitoba Hydro to stop upgrading the turbines on a nearby dam until potential effects of the work are examined.

Manitoba Hydro is replacing turbines with higher-efficiency models at the Kelsey generating station on the Nelson River, north of Thompson. The move is expected to increase the dam's generating capacity by about 35 per cent.

But the York Factory First Nation is calling for the work to stop, saying Manitoba Hydro has not consulted the band about the effects the change could have on the local environment.

"We use the [forebay] lake for transportation, hunting, fishing. It's our livelihood," said Chief Johnny Saunders.

"York Factory feels that we're not getting just treatment on the Kelsey redevelopment."

Manitoba Hydro president Bob Brennan said the utility hasn't conducted an environmental impact study because one is not needed, since the old turbines are simply being replaced with more efficient ones.

"From the same amount of water, we get more in capacity and energy out of it," he said.

Manitoba Hydro is studying the impact the new turbines might have on fish, but that research isn't complete, he said. 

The provincial government approved the project without requiring an environmental impact study, he added.

Still, Saunders wants the provincial and federal governments to intervene.

"Manitoba Hydro is talking about this new way of doing business with aboriginals in northern Manitoba on hydro development, and right now we're being pushed aside on Kelsey," he said.

Aboriginal and Northern Affairs Minister Oscar Lathlin said he's referred the issue to a team of provincial experts, which will determine if Manitoba Hydro is following the required protocol.

 Kelsey Dam

The Kelsey generating station, located about 680 kilometres north of  Winnipeg, was built in the late 1950s to supply power to Inco's mining and smelting operations in the Moak Lake and Mystery Lake areas and the city of Thompson. 

The 211-megawatt dam is connected to the provincial power grid and also supplies electricity directly to several remote northern communities.

The station is named after Henry Kelsey, a Hudson's Bay Company employee believed to have been the first white man to explore the northern interior of Manitoba in the 1690s.