Environmental assessmentsubmitted to ministry regarding power line plan

Shuniah, Ont. -- Hydro One says it will continue working with affected property owners while the province reviews the utility’s final environmental plan for a $1.2-billion high-voltage power line network between Shuniah, Atikokan and Dryden. “Based on direct feedback received, Hydro One has committed to continue to work with residents to ensure those who want to stay in their homes can (do so),” the utility said Friday in an update about its Waasigan Transmission Line project. Close to 40 per cent of property owners have signed voluntary land agreements, while 90 per cent have signed early access agreements “to help us find collaborative solutions,” said Sonny Karunakaran, vice-president of Hydro One’s strategic projects and partnerships. Karunakaran was in Thunder Bay on Friday to announce that the final environmental assessment report for the project has been completed and submitted to the Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks. Public consultations regarding the final report are to be led by the ministry, although a schedule for that process wasn’t immediately available on Friday. The Waasigan project is a partnership between Hydro One and nine First Nations in the vicinity of its proposed route, including Fort William First Nation adjacent to Thunder Bay. If approved, the project would be built in two stages, with a double-circuit, 230-kilovolt transmission line being in service between Shuniah and Atikokan by the end of 2025. A second phase involving a single-circuit line, also 230 kilovolts, would be installed between MacKenzie and Dryden by the end of 2027, according to the Waasigan plan. “Both phases also include (transformer) stations enhancements to support the energizing of the new lines,” a Hydro One news release said. The project was proposed several years ago to prepare for what is expected to be a surge in electricity demand fuelled by new mining projects west of Thunder Bay. Some property owners affected by the proposed routes have said they’ve felt bullied by the utility and fear they’ll be worse off once the project has been completed. Technically, the province can expropriate properties for hydro development deemed to be in the interest of public good. But in an interview earlier this year, Karunakaran said he didn’t think expropriation will be necessary, given the success of negotiations between Hydro One and property owners on other projects in the province. According to Friday’s news release, Hydro One has committed to additional mitigation measures in regard to its Waasigan project, including avoiding the use of herbicides, developing an environmental protection plan and “working with community members to address trespassing and unauthorized access on the (hydro) corridor.” In the same news release, Atikokan Mayor Rob Ferguson said the utility has been “actively listening to our comments and providing mitigation measures when possible.”