Hydro project crucial for band’s future: chief

FORT FRANCES—The Namakan River hydro development project being proposed by the Ojibway Power and Energy Group (OPEG) will be vital to Lac La Croix First Nation in the future, Chief Leon Jourdain said during an open house here last Thursday night.
Dozens of people came out for the session at La Place Rendez-Vous, including many residents of Lac La Croix First Nation, which will benefit greatly from the project, which proposes “run-of-river” hydroelectric facilities on the Namakan River at High Falls and Hay Rapids (and at Myrtle Falls further down the road).
“Our community is no different from any other reservation in Treaty 3 or in Canada,” Chief Jourdain said in a speech at Thursday’s open house. “We are asserting, and will continue to assert, our place in the economic world.
“For far too long our people have been denied our place in the economy,” he charged. “We’ve always watched as our resources disappeared in front of us without any economic gain for our people.
“It’s always at the expense of our people that developments happen around us, and that has to be a thing of the past,” he stressed. “We take the position that the richness of this land that we all share must be equally shared by our people.”
OPEG is a partnership between Lac La Croix First Nation and Chant Construction Ltd. to develop hydroelectric generating stations within the territory of the Lac La Croix First Nation.
The primary purpose of these projects is to provide electrical generation capacity to the province in a manner that is environmentally-sustainable, responsible, and ultimately will provide a long-term sustainable benefit to the Lac La Croix First Nation community.
“We will no longer allow false economies and false employment by way of programs from the government to try and maintain some kind of an economy in our communities,” remarked Chief Jourdain.
“It is inhumane to do that to a people. That chapter must be a thing of the past.
“We will not allow ourselves and our children to be taken for a ride by way of tokenism,” he argued. “For far too long that has been a way of life for aboriginal people.
“There is no dignity, no pride with that manner of relationship; there is no dignity or pride when we come to beg for the government to feed our people. There is no dignity or pride when we have to rely on programs and handouts,” he added.
“We’re stepping out of that trend, that mindset,” Chief Jourdain said. “It did nothing but divide us, and did everything to rob our people from its rightful place in the economic world.
“We’re stepping out of that box and this project is an example of how we’re going to do that, so we can sustain ourselves and our children in the future.”
Chief Jourdain said “forest is not a place to visit, it’s a place to live,” and while aboriginal peoples will be the first to step up if the environment is harmed, the elders always have taught them to live off the wealth of the land.
In a separate interview Thursday, Chief Jourdain further explained the benefit of the proposed hydroelectric projects.
“It’s outside of the reserve area, it’s on Crown land,” he noted. ‘“So the key here, the challenge here, the excitement for us economically, is that over a period of time, we will own the project, we will own the generating stations, and at that time, all the revenue generated will be a total benefit to our First Nation.
“It goes beyond the usual ‘employment only.’ Our partners, we’re going to be buying them out over a period of time.
“It is extremely critical that we succeed in this,” Chief Jourdain stressed. “If we succeed, then government succeeds, industry succeeds, everybody succeeds.
“If we can continue down that road with other projects, then the wealth of the land will benefit not only aboriginal people but non-aboriginals, as well,” he added.
Chief Jourdain noted what’s different about this project is how the issue of jurisdiction comes into play.
“It comes into play in a big way because, as you may or may not know, the Province of Ontario is a very difficult place in terms of aboriginal treaty rights by way of duty to consult.
“This is only one piece of how we can lead up to answering that question,” he said.
“In the bigger picture, when it comes to all of Treaty 3, which is 55,000 sq. miles, I’m also the chief responsible for lands and resources for the nation of Treaty 3, and we have a resource law that provides a legal framework for Treaty 3.
“We took our project and took it to the nation, and our law protects our project,” continued Chief Jourdain. “If we’re all going to be successful, if we’re going to start a new chapter on how we do business with indigenous peoples, then we’re taking the lead on how that can be done.”
< *c>What’s proposed?
OPEG is investigating the development of two “run-of-river” hydroelectric generating facilities on the Namakan River. These two plants, located at High Falls (4.9 megawatts) and Hay Rapids (4.7 MW), have a combined gross head of approximately 10 metres.
The two facilities will be developed in a cascade arrangement with the tail water of High Falls becoming the head pond for Hay Rapids.
OPEG is considering the joint development of the High Falls and Hay Rapids sites to take advantage of the arrangement to reduce construction overhead costs.
The High Falls “run-of-river” facility will include an intake-powerhouse located at the edge of Bill Lake. The preliminary conceptual design includes a small 1.3 m high rock-faced concrete weir roughly 40 m upstream of the crest of High Falls, as well as a similarly-sized concrete weir across the inlet to the back channel.
The objective of the weirs is to maintain the elevation of Bill Lake at a more consistent water level, which remains within the range between historic low and high water levels.
The control weir in the inlet of the back channel at Bill Lake would represent an obstacle for the free passage of sturgeon if modifications are not made to facilitate migratory patterns.
Although it is not currently thought possible for fish to move upstream into Bill Lake over High Falls, OPEG is awaiting results from the telemetry studies to confirm.
During times of sturgeon migration, fish passage concerns can be mitigated by including a fish bypass at the concrete weir to maintain free passage should it be determined that free passage conditions currently exist.
This would enable the sturgeon to continue their pre-development migration patterns in the post-development environment.
Telemetry studies are being performed by the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources (MNR) with the assistance of the Lac La Croix First Nation and OPEG to determine if sturgeon can, indeed, move all the way upstream into Bill Lake.
For the High Falls site, roughly 2.4 km of temporary access trails have been constructed. The access trails will be expanded into access roads on essentially the same alignment to accommodate construction and future operations.
Included in the trail upgrade is an all-weather access bridge across the back channel. The bridge and control weir in the back channel may utilize the same alignment.
Upon confirmation of the actual sturgeon migration patterns and agreement with authorities on the desired allowances for these patterns, the design of the control weir will be made to accommodate the desired migratory patterns.
A 44 kilovolt (kV) transmission line will run from the powerhouse to Flanders Road and interconnect with the existing line. The transmission line will follow the alignment of the access road.
The Hay Rapids “run-of-river” facility will include an intake-powerhouse located at the southwest end of the beaver pond immediately south of the river.
Preliminary conceptual designs include connecting the existing beaver pond to Little Eva Lake and utilizing it as an intake channel to the powerhouse.
Water will exit the Hay Rapids powerhouse utilizing a naturally-occurring depression alignment as a tailrace channel leading back to the Namakan River downstream of the last rapids.
Proposed designs include the use of two small concrete or inflatable rubber weirs, roughly 1.3 m high, across the top of Hay Rapids. The control weirs will stabilize the elevation of Little Eva Lake within the range between the historic low and high water elevations.
Similar to the High Falls development, upon confirmation by telemetry studies of the actual sturgeon migration patterns and agreement with authorities on the desired allowances for these patterns, the design of the control weirs of Hay Rapids will be made to accommodate the desired migratory patterns.
OPEG’s preliminary field investigations have discovered a natural barrier to fish migration at the downstream end of the back channel during low water levels.
The post-development result of adding control weirs at the outlet of Little Eva Lake may result in the removal of this barrier and result in a net benefit to the fisheries.
The post-development stabilization of the elevation of Little Eva Lake would result in a consistently-increased wetted perimeter in some reaches of the back channel, which is expected to result in the creation of additional fish habitat.
For the Hay Rapids site, about 2.3 km of temporary access trails have been constructed. The access trails will be expanded into access roads on essentially the same alignment to accommodate construction and future operations.
A 44 kV transmission line would run from the powerhouse to Flanders Road and interconnect with the existing line there. The transmission line will follow the alignment of the access road.
Preliminary designs are based on each facility using a maximum flow between 120 and 135 cubic metres per second. This will be optimized prior to the detailed design.
Both generating stations will operate as “run-of-river” facilities, meaning that neither site will have reservoir capabilities beyond that which currently exists within Bill and Little Eva lakes.
“Run-of-river” facilities produce “clean energy that is produced from a naturally-replenished water source with minimal harm to the environment,” according to OPEG.
The proposed operating range of head pond elevations will be more restricted than the natural zone of fluctuation of the current river system. No new flooding will occur within the developed areas.
The design of the facilities will dictate that no storage capability will exist. There will be no alteration to the natural river flow characteristics outside of the immediate limits of each facility.
The existing fishery is “vibrant and diverse,” said OPEG. At present, downstream movement and recruitment of resident fish populations are unimpeded.
The existing condition for upstream movement of fish is undetermined at this time.
There are some important issues regarding the potential impacts of the development to the existing fishery. The major concern is the effect of the development on free passage.
Depending on results from the telemetry and tagging studies, the development of the hydroelectric facilities can be design-built to:
1. Deny passage;
2. Allow unfettered passage with seasonal flows; or
3. Allow free passage, with the ability to deny at any time.
If studies show that unobstructed fish passage exists, the facilities will be designed to maintain that capability. If there is no existing fish passage, no new passage will be created.
Impacts of the development are “mitigable.”
An assessment of values to be protected and/or enhanced is the main objective of the field studies.
The purpose of the public consultation here last Thursday was to gather input as part of the environment assessment process for the project. Similar open houses were held in Atikokan last Wednesday and in Lac La Croix FN back in December.
An environmental assessment (EA) is a systematic process designed to identify whether or not a propose project is likely to cause a significant adverse environmental effects, taking into account the appropriate mitigation measures.
This is conducted in accordance with the Canadian EA Act and the Ontario EA Act.
“What we’re trying to do today is help you get an opportunity to see what we have found, some of the thoughts we have, some of our designs, what our fish studies have shown,” Tim Saville, OPEG project manager, said last Thursday.
“I want you to recognize there’s a little bit of study still to be done,” he added. “We are doing some further telemetry studies on the sturgeon that might take us probably close to summer.
“Then there will be another opportunity for another set of public sessions.”
These sessions likely will be held again in Lac La Croix, Atikokan, and Fort Frances.
The timelines for the High Falls and Hay Rapids hydro developments are as follows:
•Notice of commencement—completed;
•Complete field studies—July, 2008;
•Notice of public review—September, 2008;
•Notice of completion—December, 2008;
•Submit application for location approval—December, 2008; and
•Initiate construction—before December, 2009.
Further down the road, OPEG will be looking at the Myrtle Falls hydro development. The timeline for that is as follows:
•Notice of commencement—completed;
•Complete field studies—November, 2009
•Notice of public review—December, 2009;
•Notice of completion—March, 2010;
•Submit application for location approval—March, 2010; and
•Initiate construction—before March, 2011.
(Fort Frances Times)