Hydro-Quebec met with Cree leaders in Montreal over two days to propose a hydroelectric project involving a partial diversion of the Rupert River into the Eastmain basin.

Hydro spokeswoman Claudine Aucuit called the sessions exploratory meetings in which the provincial utility presented a commercial opportunity to the Crees.

If Crees are interested there is the possibility of a partnership, Aucuit said. The project would take five to seven years to complete and at that time they forecast commercial opportunities. “Those opportunities will be around, but they may not be until three to five years later,” said Aucuit.

She also stressed that Hydro-Quebec sees 1999 as an important year to begin preliminary studies, but added, “We’re not going into the field if we’re not wanted.”

Deputy Grand Chief Violet Pachanos said the chiefs were only looking at all the potential options.

“Nobody’s ready to do or sign anything yet. It seemed, though, that Hydro-Quebec was pushing for a deal. Wemindji Chief Walter Hughboy previously mentioned that Hydro-Quebec was setting a deadline of May 31. This was the reason for the Council/Board’s quick meeting with Hydro-Quebec.”

At the meeting, Mistissini Chief Kenny Loon raised concerns over the May 31 deadline. Mistissini representive Kenny Blacksmith said it was putting undue pressure on the Cree people. He also told Vandal that if Hydro wants to be partners with the Crees, this was
not a good tactic to start off with.

Loon said before anything happens, Crees will have to do community consultations and environmental studies. Blacksmith said Hydro’s data would have to be independently verified by the Crees.

Hydro presented a video showing the proposed project and some of the changes. Loon said he wants independent verification of Hydro’s claim that Mistissini Lake would be only minimally affected.

Another community that is worried is Nemaska. Chief George Wapachee said Nemaska stands for an abundance of fish and asked what will happen to them. Wapachee said his community opposes the project, but acknowledged there are two camps of thought among Crees.

“Other communities might go for it. We have to weigh both sides. Maybe we should have a KNOW campaign,” he joked.

Pachanos said Chisasibi’s and the Crees’ past relationships with Hydro-Quebec make her a bit skeptical on a partnership deal. She admitted some chiefs were under the assumption there was a rigid timetable and there were “some who thought it might be a good thing [to be partners with Hydro-Quebec and some who say no.”

Vandal agreed that there would be no May 31 deadline, but added that the window of opportunity is small. He suggested a decision should be made in 1999 to begin preliminary studies.

All in all, Aucuit said Hydro-Quebec felt both of the meetings went well.