Wednesday, March 12, 2008

'Stay out of our DAM business'

The Wabun Tribal Council has told Timmins city council that business discussions on the future of the proposed High Falls hydro-electric development are taking place between the First Nations and the developer, and city council’s comments or concerns are not welcome in those discussions.
Shawn Batisse, left,executive director of the tribal council, explained to city council this week that the Mattagami First Nation and the Matachewan First Nation are both in favour of the project because it will create economic development on their reserves and employment opportunities for the people living there.
Woods Power Generation of Larder River, near Englehart, has a proposal on file to create a hydro dam on the Grassy River, about 25 kilometres south of downtown Timmins that would effectively destroy the scenic High Falls area. High Falls is within the boundaries of the City of Timmins.
The Grassy River watershed is in an area shared by the Matachewan and Mattagami First Nations, which are part of the traditional Treaty No. 9 area, which Batisse says “covers two thirds of the province of Ontario.”
Although Timmins city council has not formally taken a stand on the project, the majority of city councillors have spoken out against any plan to destroy High Falls.
At a public meeting held in Timmins on Feb. 6 hundreds of Timmins residents spoke out against the plan to create the new hydro development on the Grassy.
Batisse told council that the Ontario government decided to open up the development process for the Northern Ontario rivers in November of 2004. One of the key components was that First Nations would be involved in any decision.
Councillor John Curley asked Batisse if he wouldn’t be in favour of seeking upgrades on existing hydro dams instead of supporting the creation of a new dam.
Batisse told Curley that the First Nations are already negotiating with Ontario Power Generation(OPG) for financial “redress” for the use of the rivers, as well as economic benefits for the redevelopment of any existing OPG sites. But Batisse says he didn’t see what one issue has to do with the other.
“As some of you may know, First Nations are largely dependent on government hand-outs,” Batisse told council. He said a new hydro dam could generate $1 million to $2 million a year for the First Nations.
“This is a way to increase revenue for the First Nations to use for education, housing, community infrastructure, business development, all kinds of things,” he said.
Coun. Mike Doody asked Batisse if he found it surprising that white people, who have nothing to gain financially, want to save and preserve the scenic part of the river that has been part of the traditional First Nations territory.
Batisse admitted to Doody that the Aboriginal people do appreciate the value of nature but there’s has to be a consideration for community development.
Coun. Denis Saudino suggested that Timmins with 50,000 people in the area should have more of a say in the discussions. Saudino said more parties should be involved in the discussions and everyone should be willing to adjust.
“If you want to talk about adjusting, I mean we’ve been adjusting for over a hundred years and continue to do so,” Batisse responded sharply.
Batisse says economic development is sorely needed because the Mattagami Reserve has no significant tax base.
“My community is six square miles. What do you want me to do on that?” he asked.
Batisse also told council there are economic spinoffs for Timmins since the dam construction project would be valued in the “15 to 20 million dollar range”, and that part of the money for materials and labour would be spent in Timmins.
“If this site bears out to be a good site economically and environmentally for us, for our communities, and we find a healthy balance for our communities, then we’ll proceed with it,” he said.
Batisse says the discussions on the future of the hydro-electric project will involve the developer and the First Nations.
“Beyond that we’re not willing to negotiate with a third party” Batisse added.

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