Manitoba Hydro has no plan to publicize the recent completion of the multibillion-dollar Keeyask Generating Station in northern Manitoba, even as one First Nations partner says it feels burned by the massive project.
Despite all units at the dam being up and running for the first time last month, there’s not much to celebrate given the burden of cost overruns and delays on First Nations, said Fox Lake Cree Nation Chief Morris Beardy.
"We were told this was going to be the golden egg, so to speak, for generations to come — but now, that’s far from what we’re feeling right now. It’s not right," Beardy said.
The remote community is one of four First Nations that partnered with Manitoba Hydro on the generating station project on the Nelson River.
The inflated $8.7-billion price tag has put a lot of strain on the Cree communities, including Tataskweyak Cree Nation, York Factory First Nation and War Lake First Nation, Beardy said.
"We’ve lost revenue on the last couple of years that we will never get back," he said, without specifying the losses to the community.
Manitoba Hydro’s 2020-21 annual report shows the Keeyask Hydropower Partnership reported a net loss of $15 million, with a $2-million loss shared by the Cree Nation partners.
"We relied on the experts of Manitoba Hydro. We trusted Manitoba Hydro again, and what did they do to us, again they shafted us, burned us," Beardy said.
A traditional water ceremony to acknowledge the changes to the water and landscape caused by the generating station was to be held this week with Manitoba Hydro and First Nations partners but was postponed due to a COVID-19 outbreak among workers at the site. As of Thursday, the number of positive cases among employees had dropped to eight from 18.
Aside from private ceremonies held to mark milestones throughout the project, Manitoba Hydro spokesman Bruce Owen said the Crown corporation is not planning large-scale, media events related to the completion of Keeyask.
"This approach is consistent with our past practice that no media events took place following the completion of other major capital projects," Owen wrote.
Likewise, the Manitoba government has been silent on the full operation of the massive infrastructure project. Cameron Friesen, the minister responsible for Manitoba Hydro, has said he had not given much thought to a ribbon-cutting or similar event to publicly recognize the project’s completion.
Beardy said he is not surprised the Progressive Conservative government is uninterested in promoting the project given its vocal disdain over its management by the NDP government.
Fox Lake is not necessarily in a complimentary mood either as outstanding concerns, from COVID-19 to partnership agreements, related to Keeyask still need to be addressed, Beardy said.
I don’t have anything really good to say about the whole process of how this was done. If you were to ask me again if Fox Lake were to ever go into an agreement with Manitoba Hydro, I would have to really consider it and ask my people that," he said. "You look around us, look at Fox Lake, how much has Fox Lake really benefited from these projects?
The community’s relationship with Manitoba Hydro is improving, but it has yet to come to an agreement with the corporation for commercial terms related to the dam (generally the price of energy purchased from the partnership), he said.
Tataskweyak Cree Nation Chief Doreen Spence said her community believes the partnership with Manitoba Hydro on Keeyask is "important and there is much to acknowledge."
"Going forward, TCN will be working with their partner, Manitoba Hydro and the other Cree Nations, to determine how best to commemorate this project and partnership," Spence said.
The First Nation has asked Manitoba Hydro and a numbered company, which is a subsidiary of the Crown corporation, to discontinue with a statement of claim stemming from a blockade in May 2020, now that the project is complete and workers are not accessing the site to the same degree compared to the height of the pandemic, Spence said.
RCMP served Spence and Tataskweyak Cree Nation members an injunction after they blocked access to the Keeyask site amid concerns a shift change involving roughly 1,000 workers could spread COVID-19 to the community.
Discussions on commercial terms between TCN and Manitoba Hydro are ongoing, she said.
"Our priority is ensuring this partnership is real, mutually prosperous and sustainable," Spence said.
The Tories appear to be embarrassed of Keeyask and are putting political strategy ahead of the interests of Manitobans by not highlighting its completion and potential, said NDP Leader Wab Kinew.
"Keeyask is going to power our clean energy future for the next century. At a time when tarmacs and roads in Europe are melting because of climate change, we are on the verge of being able to show the world that you can have an advanced economy while doing your part to solve the climate crisis," Kinew said.
It seems like something that we should be singing from the top of the roof of the legislative building.
The province has not provided instruction to Manitoba Hydro with respect to publicizing the Keeyask Generating Station, a government spokesperson said. Decommissioning the construction site is expected to take 18 months.