Hydro-Quebec is finally living up to its promise in the 1975 James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement by building new power lines into Waskaganish to ensure residents receive more reliable power.

A $1.2 million slashing contract was given to Cree Construction and Development Company to clear brush and trees in and around the area for the new 69-kilovolt lines. Cree Construction was designated by the Waskaganish band as the company to negotiate with Hydro-Quebec for this contract as well as another contract that includes the actual building of the power lines.

It’s been a long time coming, according to Waskaganish band councillor Steve Diamond. “It was supposed to be part of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement but it never happened. Then it was supposed to be part of the La Grande Agreement, but it was never carried out. So finally in February 2002 [when the Paix des Braves was signed] this was brought up again.”

Cree Construction had to sub-contract to non-native companies for some aspects such as mechanical slashing. “We’ve requested that in the next contract [Cree Construction] would be hiring a local labour force so local people could work,” he said.

Diamond added that it’s a bit of a touchy situation as they are not the proponents of the project. “It’s different from when we had the road project, we were the proponent and we had a lot more say in how the work was carried out. For this project the proponent is Hydro-Quebec, so it’s a different situation in terms of being able to guarantee a certain number of jobs,” he said.

Hydro spokesman Sylvain Theberge told the Nation that a second contract, valued at $4.4 million, was also given to Cree Construction.

“Everything is working very good. Right now we’re just making sure that the dates and the delivery of all those aspects are going to be respected,” said Theberge, who also mentioned that a large number of Cree will be working on the various projects, although he could not say how many.

Cree Construction President William Macleod could not be reached for comment.

The new lines will be 208 kilometres long, 40 of which are currently inaccessible by road and pose the toughest part of the job.

The lines will be powered by the Nemiscau substation and helped along the way by a smaller station about two kilometres from town. The work is supposed to be completed by December 2006.

“The capacity of the present generating station is not really sufficient or reliable because we’re placing more of a burden on it everyday,” Councillor Diamond told the Nation.

“Sometimes when it’s really cold and people are using their furnaces a lot it puts a strain on the system. These new lines will go a long way to correcting that.”

Diamond said that some people were not too happy when the project was announced. It entails cutting a 50-metre-wide quarter across a few traplines. To put that into perspective, Diamond says that it’ll be two-and-a-half times the width of the community’s access road.

Although local tallymen are not opposed to the project, they are concerned about the impacts, he said. No impact study was done because the work was approved back in the 1970s when environmental rules weren’t as developed as they are today. However, Diamond said that provisions for things such as goose ponds would be made if the lines adversely affect the natural habitat.