From August 13-16, 2009 protestors from Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation (NCN) set up a blockade, consisting of protesters, vehicles and logs, and blocked access to the Wuskwatim dam site. For a time, about 880 Manitoba Hydro workers were prevented from leaving the work camp.
The blockade organizers protested the lack of NCN members employed at the site and charged that Manitoba Hydro was not living up to promises it made to NCN members as part of the Wuskwatim Project Development Agreement.
The end to blockade involved both an agreement with Manitoba Hydro and a court injunction obtained by Manitoba Hydro delivered by the RCMP to the remaining protestors who maintained the blockade after the agreement was reached.
NCN Chief Jimmy Moore said that NCN council did not sanction the blockade.
At the end of July 2009, the Wuskwatim projects employed 976 people. Aboriginal peoples made up 29% of the total workforce (284 employees), with 40 of these Aboriginal employees (4% of total workforce) coming from Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation (NCN). No specific data is available regarding the proportion of employees who are from outside Manitoba.
Construction for the Wuskwatim Projects started August 2006.
A 48-km all-weather gravel access road was built between Provincial Road 391 and the Wuskwatim site. The road provides year-round, all-weather access to the construction site. Construction of the road began August 11, 2006, and was completed late fall 2008.
A 700-person construction camp, located north of the project site, houses workers building the generating station. Construction began in summer of 2007 and was completed fall 2008.
Excavation for the principal structures commenced in December 2007 and was completed in February 2009. The work was done in two phases.
Phase 1 preliminary excavation was completed in spring 2008, with approximately 650,000 cu. m of materials excavated. The upstream containment dyke and rockfill portions of the Stage 1 upstream and downstream cofferdams are complete.
Phase 2 excavation for the principal structures and channels began in June 2008, with approximately 525,000 cu. m excavated. Phase 2 work also included the production and stockpiling of coarse aggregate materials for use in later phases of construction, including this season's concrete production. Phase 2 was complete in February 2009.
Total excavations to date are approximately 1,178,000 cu. m of overlying soil and bedrock material.
The project's spillway is a concrete structure 43 m in length with three bays that will serve as a diversion channel during construction of the main dam, and will provide flood routing for the reservoir during operation.
The first concrete was placed in the spillway May 17, 2009. Installation of rebar and placement of concrete continued as part of the 2009 construction season.
Construction of the transmission line from Birchtree to Wuskwatim has been completed. The transmission line construction from Wuskwatim to Herblet Lake is underway and is expected to be complete by March 2010.
The clearing of right-of-way for the transmission line from Herblet Lake to Ralls Island has commenced and will be completed over the 2009/10 winter season. Line construction will take place over two winter seasons starting in 2009/2010 and finishing in 2010/2011.
Installation of buildings at Birchtree and Wuskwatim switching stations is underway and buildings are expected to be complete by early September 2009.
Wuskwatim Construction Delays
Manitoba Hydro is encountering difficulties with construction of the Wuskwatim Dam and associated transmission infrastructure.
The contract for site preparation work was awarded to Nebraska-based company Kiewet Corp. However, in October 2007, Manitoba Hydro confirmed the tendering process closed on the contract to build Wuskwatim without a single qualifying bid.
Manitoba Hydro continued to discuss potential for Kiewet Corp. to undertake construction work for Wuskwatim, but talks broke down in January 2008, leaving Hydro without a company able or willing to build the 200-megawatt dam.
As a result, in March 2008 the utility decided to break down construction elements into manageable pieces to encourage bidding. Two contracts will be put out for tender. The first is a smaller contract for the additional preliminary work expected to be awarded in May 2008. The second is a larger contract for the main construction work on the generation station.
Manitoba Hydro President and CEO, Bob Brennan said that Hydro is still targeting 2012 for completion of the Wuskwatim project, which is a joint project with Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation.
Wuskwatim Construction Costs Soar
Wuskwatim dam and transmission infrastructure costs have skyrocketed, and are now estimated at nearly 1.6 billion dollars. (April 2008).
The original estimated costs were projected in the utility's environmental impact statement to be "very 'tight' or well-developed, with a 90 percent confidence" that they would fall within Hydro's cost range estimate. This cost range estimate was less than $1 billion for all generation station and transmission line costs.
When the Manitoba Clean Environment Commission's environmental review of the Wuskwatim projects concluded in 2004 estimated costs had increased to $1 billion.
In 2008, Hydro says cost of constructing the projects is nearly $1.6 billion - a 60% increase from 2004. Manitoba Hydro says changes to the Wuskwatim construction budget are a result of significant increases in cost of construction in Canada and a high Canadian dollar.
The economics of the projects have been affected by soaring costs; Wuskwatim was originally thought to have a 10 percent rate of return (rate of profit earned from a capital investment). According to Manitoba Hydro, the rate of return is now "quite low," but implications of increased power sales have yet to be accounted for.