By Peter Globensky
PIC MOBERT FN – An economic development initiative ten years in the making has literally brought power to the people of this First Nation.
The community with a membership of 1,000 located in northwestern Ontario a little inland from the beautiful and rugged north shore coast of Gitchigaming – Lake Superior.
Pic Mobert will be harnessing part of the power of the historic White River which runs through the heart of their territory. On Oct. 17 the community, led by determined and third-term Chief Johanna Desmoulin officially turned the sod on The Gitchi Animki (White River) Hydroelectric Project. This resourceful enterprise will lead to the creation of two run-of-the-river electricity generation facilities on the lower White River with a productive capacity of nearly 20 MW of power which will be sold into the Ontario grid, thereby generating a constant source of income “as long as the river flows.”
Chief Desmoulin is justifiably proud of the joint venture and says that “this project will be an important achievement for our community and will serve as a guiding light and a stepping stone for other economic development opportunities for our people.”
The partnership under Pic Mobert Hydro Inc. (PMHI), is a joint venture between the Pic Mobert First Nation and Regional Power Inc. which was the recipient in 2005 of the Blue Planet Prize recognizing outstanding performance in sustainable management of hydropower developments.
The two generating facilities (Gitchi Animki and Bezhig) on the White will be approximately 12 km apart. The existing White Lake Dam, long a bone of contention and an irritant to the community, will be decommissioned as part of the project.
The function of lake level and flood control will be carried out by the new Bezhig site. The president of the joint venture, Theresa Bananish an energetic Pic Mobert- born lawyer, told Anishnabek News, “development of the community’s largest natural resource asset is critical and is yet another example of how persistence and commitment can help our community gain an increased measure of control over its economic destiny.”
The Gitchi Animki Hydroelectric Project has been led by numerous Chiefs and Councils who have progressively brought the project to its current late stage of development. The site development rights were originally secured by Chief James Kwissiwa and soon after, Chief Peter Desmoulin. The original MOU with Regional Power was signed by Chief John Kwissiwa and the original Joint Venture Agreement by Chief Jeff Desmoulin. Chief Johanna Desmoulin is leading the project through its final stages of development and into construction.
Norm Jaehrling, executive director of Pic Mobert has worked diligently with Chief and Council to shepherd the project though to its current development and will provide his management expertise to oversee its implementation.
Counsellor Wayne Sabourin, who has championed this project from its inception, says Sabourin. “I always believed that this day would come. I was never discouraged – this is a dream that I had for my children, and we didn’t stop until we got there”.