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Opposition mounts to proposed hydro-electric dams on the Severn.

Opposition mounts to proposed hydro-electric dams on the Severn

A Kirkland Lake company's plan to construct 12 hydro-electric dams on the Severn River is meeting with severe opposition from native Canadians who reside along the Northern Ontario waterway.

Frontier Power of Kirkland Lake applied to the Ministry of Natural Resources last year for a licence to build the dams at rapids along the river, but the licence was denied.

Lee Whitehead, the ministry's assistant lands supervisor in Sioux Lookout explained that Frontier Power's application was never accepted.

He said the ministry would not consider the proposal until Frontier Power had contacted and discussed the proposal with all affected users.

Whitehead also reported that until the company completes more substantial work with the proposal, including a market feasibility plan to identify any major obstacles to the idea, it will be impossible to tell if the project will go ahead.

"When they are finished, Frontier can return and indicate whether or not they wish to continue on an official level. They don't seem to be hurrying," said Whitehead.

Joe Morgan, president of Frontier Power, refused to comment on his company's plans.

To date, only one meeting between Frontier Power and the native communities has taken place, said Chief Frank Beardy of Muskrat Dam.

Beardy explained that, on invitation, officials with Frontier Power met with residents of the six affected communities in May but failed to convince them that the dams would be viable and that they should change their position.

Beardy said a referendum had been held to determine whether the project should receive the communities' consent. The result was negative.

Some 3,000 residents of Muskrat Dam, Keewaywin, Fort Severn, Sandy lake, Deer Lake and Bearskin voted 96 per cent in favor of declaring the river a dam-free zone, reported Beardy.

"The response was overwhelming against any dam construction on the river," said Beardy.

The communities are located along the 600-kilometre river which extends from Fort Severn on the Hudson Bay to Deer Lake, some 60 kilometers east of the Manitoba border.

According to Beardy, the development would affect some 3,500 residents on the Severn River and approximately another 3,000 who live along the river's tributaries.

The concern that the communities have over the construction of the dams, explained Beardy, is because of the threat to the environment posed by the river's development.

"We know the the Severn River is quite fragile from an ecological and environmental point of view. A series of dams would irreversibly alter the river and the land surrounding it," insisted Beardy.

He said the concern is to protect and maintain what he refers to as one of the longest, undeveloped and unpolluted rivers in North America.

"We have to preserve the river. We have to work towards ensuring the river is there for future generations of Canadians," he commented.

Whitehead estimated that the hydro-electric power project would supply between three and five megawatts across the entire system and supply power to the communities.

Beardy said that the communities, however, believe that there is no economic benefit to them from the development.

Commenting on any possible employment created in the communities as a result of the construction and operation of the dams, Beardy said there would be "no real economic benefit to the community at all."

Beardy believes that no substantial employment will result from the construction. He said that traditionally "the native people have been at the end of the ladder."

Beardy further commented that there may be a few jobs created "on the end of a pick or shovel," during the construction phase. However, none will result from the daily operation of the completed dams.

As an alternative to constructing dams along the river, Whitehead reported that Frontier Power has indicated that it may consider building pen-stocks to accomplish virtually the same result.

Whitehead explained that a pen-stock is a large pipe which directs water through turbines which generate the hydro-electricity.

The difference, he said, is that no flooding occurs. However, less power is generated.

This alternative was also met with disapproval from Beardy.

He said pen-stocks would also produce adverse environmental effects.

The pen-stocks would "seriously affect the fragile state of the sturgeon spawning grounds along the river," said Beardy.

Admitting that the ministry has little to do with the current situation, Whitehead explained that Frontier Power's proposal is still in the preliminary stages and that further developments are unlikely to occur until the company has the time to judge whether the project is viable.
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Title Annotation:Severn River, Ontario
Author:McDougall, Douglas
Publication:Northern Ontario Business
Date:Jul 1, 1990
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