Waasigan land access being negotiated

By Carl Clutchey
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
The Chronicle-Journal

As pre-development work continues on a massive hydroelectric transmission project between Thunder Bay and Dryden, Hydro One says avoiding conflicts with affected landowners — some of whom have been harshly critical of the plan — remains integral to the process.

Sonny Karunakaran, the utility’s project delivery director, said this week that finding common ground with property owners is preferable to a heavy-handed approach.

“Historically, on our other projects, that has really served us well,” Karunakaran said in an interview.

The proposed Waasigan Transmission project would install high-voltage lines in two sections: the first between Thunder Bay and Atikokan, to be in-service by 2025; a second phase between Atikokan and Dryden is to be ready by 2027.

Construction cost estimates have yet to be released, but Hydro One has earlier pegged the pre-development phase alone at nearly $70 million.

Unlike the $777-million East-West Tie power line recently completed by NextBridge Infrastructure between Thunder Bay and Wawa,  the Waasigan project appears to be experiencing more push-back from some landowners.

According to a provincial Energy ministry spokesman, the Ontario Energy Board can authorize a project proponent to expropriate lands if doing so would be in the pubic interest.

“Expropriation is a last resort when a mutually beneficial agreement cannot be voluntarily agreed upon,” the spokesman added.

Asked if expropriation might be necessary in some cases if agreements can’t be reached on the  Waasigan project, Karunakaran said he’s confident it won’t come to that.

He noted in regard to Hydro One’s $268-million Chatham to Lakeshore transmission project, which broke ground last month in southwestern Ontario, the utility was able to reach voluntary agreements with 100 per cent of property owners on the route.

So far, 70 per cent of affected property owners along the proposed Waasigan line have signed early access agreements, Karunakaran said.

Not everyone is convinced land negotiations will go smoothly.

Kaministiquia property owner Michelle Rosetta Hamer told The Chronicle-Journal the Waasigan line, if approved, would slice through her 112-acre “homestead,” using a space of land she claims is equivalent to two football fields.

“We have nothing to lose,” Rosetta Hamer said. “The line will take everything away from us, and leave us with so much crap.”

Karunakaran said every negotiation with a property owner is unique; in general, the utility attempts to find out what concerns a landowner might have and address them.

Though Hydro One seeks to be “fair and equitable, equitable may not mean equal,” Karunakaran cautioned, adding negotiations are predicated on a “degree of reasonableness” by all parties.

To avoid discrepancies on what a property might be deemed to be worth, the utility makes use of third-party appraisers, Karunakaran noted.

Landowners may choose to provide an easement to accommodate the power line, or sell their properties outright. 

In the end, Karunakaran aid, Hydro One is committed to ensuring that “no one will be displaced from their homes” if they choose not to vacate.

The Waasigan line, which is to have enough capacity to transmit 350 megawatts of electricity, is being proposed to meet an anticipated spike in power demand linked to new mining development west of Thunder Bay.

About 10 Northwestern Ontario First Nations are potential investors in the project.