Skip to main content

Manitoba Hydro and the fires near Little Grand Rapids and Pauingassi

Monday June 25, in the Crown Corporations Committee of the Manitoba Legislature, I asked Kelvin Shepherd, the President and CEO of Manitoba Hydro a series of questions about the role of Manitoba Hydro in relation to fire emergencies.  My questions and Mr. Shepherd's responses are below. 
Hon. Jon Gerrard (River Heights): Let me start with a question from my colleague, the MLA from Kewatinook. She asks: Why did Manitoba Hydro fly in and out of Little Grand Rapids at a cost of $3,600  per day while restoring power when they could have stayed at the Little Grand Rapids Lodge at a cost of $2,600, saving Hydro $1,000 a day for the three weeks?
      I know that Manitoba Hydro's looking carefully at all expenses, and she's just pointing out an area where there could have been some savings perhaps, and let me ask, probably most appropriately, to Mr. Shepherd.
Mr. Shepherd: Thank you for the question, Dr. Gerrard, and first just let me say that I think our staff that responded to this emergency in Pauingassi and Little Grand Rapids have done an excellent job, beginning with our emergency management operations staff and then, ultimately, our logistics and support staff, and then, finally, our construction people on the ground that undertook to restore service in a, I think, a very expedient manner, but also with due regard to safety and to ensuring that customer safety was also foremost, because with this type of damage, you can have live wires. And so we worked very carefully to ensure that.
      As you know, the staff–most of the staff did go in and out on a daily basis. And that's largely because we believe that was the most effective way to mobilize staff. Staff changed, so you didn't necessarily have the same people every day. It allowed us to augment staff and bring them in. And, quite frankly, services on the ground were pretty limited in Little Grand Rapids. There was no power; there was no water, really, during the emergency, and so it was much more effective for us to do that.
      I respect that your colleague believes there was a cost saving there, but I think, operationally, we chose to use what we believe was the most effective means to restore service in a quick and safe manner.
Mr. Gerrard: One of the things in looking at aspects of fire prevention is that currently, most of the approach to addressing fires focuses on preventing damages to homes and in communities, but it would seem to me that given the importance of Hydro lines and keeping them intact in terms of when you get people back in, that a pretty strong case could be made to have fire plans which  also focus on the utility lines like Hydro lines so that a community can get back and up sooner.
Mr. Shepherd: Thank you, Dr. Gerrard, for that question.
      And I–it's something that Manitoba Hydro focuses on. We have a plan. It–first, it starts with a vegetation management plan. So we have a regular plan to control vegetation and manage the amount of growth underneath or near Hydro lines. Of course, if you have a very large fire, you know, it's–as you know, a fire can jump large distances, and so it is difficult to totally mitigate. But we do have a regular program and we enter into regular activities to do that.
      Secondly, we do have an emergency management plan, and we ensure that if there is a situation where, you know, infrastructure is damaged, that we are well equipped and positioned to respond. And so that may include everything from simply having a correct stockpile of components to having staff that are trained to work in situations like that.
      Furthermore, our emergency management organization co-ordinates closely with the Province, and to the extent that there is a threat to major infrastructure, the Province works with us to try to prioritize fire resources, where appropriate, to protect that infrastructure.
      So I can assure you that we work closely with our provincial counterparts, that we have a professional team on board, that we have activities both preventative and restorative in place. And I think this particular fire, which obviously resulted in, you know, a significant burned area and evacuation of a community–the infrastructure damage was responded to and restored in a very timely manner. And I don't believe that there's something that really could have been done in this case to somehow prevent the damage. And I believe that we had the plan and the people in place to respond and restore it.
      Recognizing the remoteness of the area, the fact that equipment had to be airlifted to Bissett, I believe, and then helicoptered in–so there's a large logistics component when you have this type of a problem in a remote area, but I think we have a good plan in place and we're always concerned when there is an outage and look to restore it as quickly as we can, but this was a difficult situation and, still, power was restored in a pretty timely manner.
Mr. Gerrard: Yes, so follow up: I gather there's an emergency plan in place that would be there for each community which presumably would be shared with the Province and the community and perhaps with the federal government.
Mr. Shepherd: No, I would say that we–on those types of issues, we don't have individual community plans, but what we do have is a system plan. So we ensure that we have reasonable stockpiles of material properly positioned for emergency restoration. You know, those range all the way from, in this case it might be distribution poles and transformers, all the way to, for example in the case of our bipole line, we have spare towers that are positioned throughout the province.
      So we have a system response plan and we have essentially a plan that would call for the activation of an emergency operation centre with people that are familiar with the area and know how to access resources in the corporation and co‑ordinate with the Province to restore service.
      I think you could understand that for a utility our size with the number of locations, it would be practically impossible to develop a plan for every community. So you have to have a more generic response plan that is flexible enough but able to be activated dependent on the situation that you face.


Popular posts from this blog

Comparison between Manitoba and South Dakota shows dramatic impact of Physical Distancing

Manitoba implemented physical distancing measures in mid-March.  South Dakota has still not made physical distancing mandatory.   The result is a dramatic difference in the incidence of covid-19 viral infections between the two jurisdictions.   This graph shows the number of people with Covid-19 infections from March 27 to April 14.  Manitoba ( red line )  started leveling off about April 4 and has seen only a small increase in Covid-19 infections since then.   South Dakota ( blue line )   has seen a dramatic increase in Covid-19 infections since April 4.  Those who are skeptical of the impact of physical distancing in Manitoba should look at this graph! Data are from the Johns Hopkins daily tabulations

Karen Keppler 1953 - 2020

  Karen was an incredible person who helped so many people. She had a heart of gold. Back in 1994 to 1997 we worked closely together to help communities all over Manitoba get connected to the internet. In the years since she has done amazing things.   She has served as Chair of the Winnipeg Library Foundation and helped with raising money for the expansion of the Millenium Library.    She helped many people to get new opportunities through the Selkirk and District Learning Centre and through her activities at the University of Winnipeg and the Herzing College.   She was an entrepreneur who helped many people move forward and start successful businesses.  Karen was very concerned about her community.  In she was   the Manitoba Liberal Party candidate in Sekirk constituency.   When the COVID pandemic came, Karen was really helpful in an effort to get computers for kids in need so that they could learn at home. Even recently when I was working to understand lead pollution and lead effects

PCs hiding availability of volunteering benefits from EIA Recipients

More than I month ago, I was approached by Tara St. Laurent.  Because of her disability she is unable to work and is on EIA.  But she loves volunteering when she can with the Winnipeg Human Society.  When the Covid-19 pandemic hit and Manitoba went into lockdown, she was no longer able to volunteer as before.  She missed the $100 benefit which was critical for her to be able to purchase her food to eat.  She asked me if there was a possibility of seeing if she could still get the benefit.  I wrote a letter to Heather Stefanson the Minister of Families to make this request and she said yes.  However, actually getting the benefit took some time, and a direct intervention with Tara's worker to ensure she got the benefit, which she is now getting.  I had expected that Minister Stefanson would notify other EIA recipients who have been volunteering that they are eligible for the benefit.  Sadly, this did not happen, so the availability of this benefit has been largely unknown.   When I