Line and mine connection article-courtesy of SOUL

April 20, 2007 at 7:58 pm (environmental)

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Making The Connections Between Dams, 
Transmission Lines, And Mines
From Midwest Treaty Network/Wolf Watershed Educational Project

BY WINONA LA DUKE
October 2000

” We are right in the middle of that environmental slum Manitoba Hydro has created ” –Kenny Miswaggon, Chair of the Pimicikamak Cree Nation of Cross Lake, Manitoba.

“We have reaffirmed our historic commitment to protecting the lands, waters and people of Wisconsin, We are sending a clear message to our utilities that we oppose the construction of power lines that will bring more harm to the Lac Courte Oreilles Band of Lake Superior Chippewa in Hayward and the Pimicikamak Cree Nation in
Manitoba.” –Tom Maulson, President of the
Great Lakes Inter-Tribal Council.

A 250-mile, 350,000-volt electric transmission line jointly proposed by the Minnesota Power and the the private utility Public Service Corporation of Wisconsin would bring power from hydroelectric dams in northern Manitoba Cree communities. The line would run from Duluth across the Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwe reservation to
Wausau, Wisconsin. A smaller ll5,000-volt spur line would run from Rhinelander to the proposed Crandon metallic sulfide mine site next to the Mole Lake Ojibwe Reservation in northeastern
Wisconsin. That line, and increased cooperation and mergers between utilities, has linked Crees from northern Manitoba, with farmers, landowners and Native nations in northern Wisconsin–in a pitched battle to preserve the
Wolf
River,
Mole
Lake, and the stunning waterways and boreal forests thousands of miles apart.

For almost two decades Native communities, sportfishers, and environmentalists have together waged successful opposition to the Crandon mine, proposed at first by Exxon and then by Rio Algom, which is being purchased by the South African company
Billiton. The copper/zinc/gold mine is projected to produce 11 million tons of metals over a 28-year mine lifespan, and leave behind 44 million tons of acidic wastes, becoming
Wisconsin’s largest-ever toxic waste dump. Data from the mining company itself indicates that contamination would affect the local groundwater for more than 200,000 years. The proposed mine would use up to 20 tons a month of cyanide, as well as other chemicals for processing the ore. The mine would also pump more up to 1400 gallons a minute out of the mine impacting not only the immediate mine area, but Mole Lake, the precious Ojibwe wild rice beds, and the Wolf River, one of the most pristine rivers in the nation.

“I ‘d like to see my children have everything I had, and I believe the wild rice beds will be contaminated if the mine goes through ” says Roger McGeshick, Mole Lake Sokaogon Ojibwe Tribal Chairman, “A big corporation has all the money, but money doesn’t mean anything to people here. What’s important is their way of life. Water quality is part of their way of life and of ensuring our way of life.”

Zoltan Grossman of the Midwest Treaty Network observes, “The Crandon proposal has already united former adversaries over treaty fishing rights into an alliance to protect the fishery from mining companies. It has not only brought together tribes with sportfishers, but environmentalists with unionists, and rural residents with urban students.” He adds, “Many rural groups, tribes, and townships around Wisconsin that are opposing mining, transmission lines, power plant proposals, and Perrier springwater pumping, are also beginning to come together in a new statewide anti-corporate movement. In the spirit of Wisconsin’s progressive and environmental traditions, they believe in ‘people power, not corporate power’.”

The transmission line itself is expensive: an estimated $200-300 million would be spent on its construction, according to the Wisconsin state agency Public Service Commission (PSC). The line is controversial because high-voltage transmission lines are considered dangerous, and because it would cut a swath through the property of over 7000 Wisconsin residents and diminish farmlands and forests alike. An estimated 50% of the power is lost between the point of origin and the point of use, with increasing concern about the possible health consequences of the electromagnetic fields on human beings, dairy cattle, and wildlife.

Northern States Power (NSP) is the single largest export contract for power from huge dams in northern Manitoba, dams which devastate not only the environment, but the people who live there. At present, NSP and it’s affiliates purchase l000 megawatts of power from Manitoba Hydro moved through immense transmission lines to the south. The proposed 345 kv Arrowhead- Weston Transmission Line, headed from Duluth to Wausau, is being opposed by many human rights, farmers’, environmental and indigenous groups–notably the group that calls itself “SOUL”–Save Our Unique Lands.

That contract, the dams, and proposed transmission lines through northern Minnesota and Wisconsin are ecologically and socially devastating. In the early l970s, Manitoba Hydro put in a series of seven dams on the Nelson and Churchill River systems in northern Manitoba. Lauded as a source of “clean energy ” from the north, Manitoba Hydro joined with neighboring Ontario Hydro and Hydro Quebec in selling that power to the United States, the single largest market for energy in the world. Since that time, things have gone pretty well for Manitoba Hydro ($1 billion in gross revenues in 1999) and Northern States Power, with banner years for profits at both companies, and the appearance to a larger world good choices for ” green energy”, even though the companies have cared little for the people and land devastated by the projects.

Five of the twelve dams are on the Nelson River, the river which runs through Cross Lake on its way to Hudson Bay. The first set of dams have already destroyed 3.3 million acres of land. Rivers have been turned to toxic reservoirs now laced with methylmercury. Fish from the Nelson River, a staple of the Cree, have been contaminated. Pregnant women, elders and children must severely limit their intake or risk dire health consequences . Large tracts of boreal forest have been flooded, displacing and destroying animal habitat. Both of these consequences have made the Cree environmental refugees and paupers in their own lands.

The human consequences are also devastating. Unemployment has reached an estimated 85% in Cross Lake, and with that are all the social and human costs of the environmental destruction. Cross Lake is considered to have among the highest suicide rates in Canada, a community of 4000 has more than l00 residents which attempted suicide in the second half of l999 alone. More than 50 members of the Pimicikamak Cree Nation have been killed directly or indirectly by the megaproject, as many others drowned trying to travel on unstable reservoir ice and water. A Canadian Treaty Court has found Manitoba Hydro legally liable for a number of these deaths. Manitoba Hydro has suggested “compensation” in the form of $l5,000 each for the deaths.

There is a set of simple reasoning for the logic of future development. If new transmission lines are allowed to go through, Manitoba Hydro will have increased access to markets, and thus the potential for more dams in the north. That reasoning does not escape the Cree. “If you’re gonna double the exports, that means you’re gonna double the misery,” said Kenny Miswaggon, tribal leader from the Pimicikamak Cree Nation of Cross Lake, Manitoba.

With at least 75% of Manitoba hydroelectric potential is as yet “untapped”, more proposals are under consideration. Much of this power would head into Minnesota and Wisconsin as export markets–down the high voltage transmission lines, and to U.S. consumers. There are obvious alternatives. Northern State Power’s Buffalo Ridge wind project is a banner energy producer, with additional potential for wind energy in the Midwest estimated to be able to provide up to three quarters of US electrical needs. The recent Midwest Renewable Energy Fair in Madison, drew almost 10,000 people to talk about the potential for alternatives, and the Ojibwe, like other tribes, are clear on the need to prioritize. The Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwe recently passed a resolution calling “for greatly increased investments by tribal, local, state and national governments, as well as by individuals and corporate and institutional entities in energy conservation and genuinely renewable energy sources in Wisconsin and the upper Midwest, to displace the ‘need’ to purchase additional environmentally and socially destructive electricity from Manitoba Hydro.”

The electricity from the Duluth-Wausau transmission line, as well as from new proposed electrical generating plants in rural southern Wisconsin, would not be used to provide power to state residents, but rather by used by private utilities to sell power to Chicago and other urban markets. The private utilities threaten to use eminent domain to condemn land for a project that will not even benefit Wisconsin residents. Instead of approving yet another outdated utility transmission line, the Wisconsin PSC could be exploring alternatives that would benefit consumers.

The PSC’s own studies indicate that Wisconsin could reduce energy usage by 35% over 20 years through a variety of measures, including process improvements in manufacturing, lighting efficiency measures in commercial sector, and fuel switching for residential needs. Keith Reopelle, of Wisconsin’s Environmental Decade, points out that utilities have backed away from spending money on their energy efficiency programs. “The Public Service Commission records show that utility programs aimed at reducing household and business energy use and bills have dropped by $94 million or 64% over the past four years. Purchases for instance of high efficiency furnaces snared 90% of the rebate assisted market in l993, as opposed to 20% today.” There are, in short, no absence of alternatives to destructive dam megaprojects, mines, and dangerous transmission lines.

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