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Proposed transmission line would cut through Gros Morne

Western Brook Pond is the best known, most visually striking tourism attraction in the province.

And the province would like to decorate its viewscape with a major hydro transmission line.

Credit goes to Wallace McLean for reporting this news, a week after it was made public' by the province (it hasn't been reported elsewhere, as far as I know). If you follow the link, there is a map showing the proposed route as it cuts through Gros Morne National Park, from the northern border, partly along the seacoast, up the shore of Bonne Bay and exiting at the southeast entrance to the park. You can also see detailed maps of each segment of the proposed line by clicking here, and scrolling down.

The photo illustrating this piece is not from any official document. It is my own photo the only one I have of the entrance to Western Brook Pond with Photoshop work performed by a colleague, so the actual power line will look very different. Its path will likely be further west of the pond you see here however, the more detailed maps do not show where and how the power line intersects with the trail system. That is a curious and significant oversight, given this is arguably the most important collision between economic progress and natural aesthetic in the entire proposal.

Either way, the image you see here is not too farfetched. The power line would bisect coastal lowlands for most of its route down the Northern Peninsula, and is guaranteed to get in the way of some breathtaking views. The proposed route also cuts across the front of Gros Morne Mountain, and skirts the northern shore of Bonne Bay.

This is how that segment of the power line is described in the project description, of the environmental assessment document:

"Project planning and design are currently at a stage of having identified a 2 km wide corridor for most of the on-land portions of the proposed HVdc transmission line, 200 m wide corridors for select on-land locations (namely, the proposed line sections within the boundaries of Gros Morne National Park), and 500 m wide corridors for the proposed Strait of Belle Isle cable crossings, as well as various alternative corridor segments in particular areas."

It is unclear how much of the 2 km and 200 m corridors are to be cleared entirely of vegetation. That's part of the problem with project descriptions they offer little detail and raise more questions than they answer. (And I was unable to get into the official Lower Churchill site to poke around some more, because the link wasn't working all day Sunday.)

There is also an alternative route listed, marked in green on the map (again, follow this link and scroll down), which diverts away from Gros Morne, near Daniels Harbour, cuts southeast across remote wilderness (including the Main River headwaters) and rejoins the original route north of Grand Lake. This route would presumably be far more expensive because it crosses over the harsh terrain of the Long Range Mountains and inaccessible, unspoiled wilderness ecosystems.

What I've reported here is tentative, based on high-level documents that are subject to change. No doubt the proposed route would follow existing power lines wherever possible, as I do recall crossing a power line on the trail to Gros Morne Mountain (though an additional line would probably make this bigger).

There is more at stake here than protected parklands. The Great Northern Peninsula is, in my view, the most magnificent scenic drive in the province, with the ocean on the left and the Long Range Mountains on the right, all the way up the coast. And what of the rest of the route, across the island to the Avalon Peninsula? We should also consider how this line will impact remote and settled regions of Labrador, which are also spectacular and important.

Plenty of cynicism surrounds the idea of the trans-island power route, and many think it's just pie-in-the-sky. Either way, that should not lull us into complacency regarding potential environmental impacts. We need to take that discussion seriously.

We should treat it with greater earnest than the Williams Government. Early in January, in a Telegram interview about federal infrastructure funding, finance minister Jerome Kennedy said, "That's something that we could start immediately, it's something that we wouldn't have to wait for the environmental assessments because, essentially, we'd simply be building a transmission line."

Williams later corrected Kennedy, but it does make you wonder.

UPDATE: Blogger Ed Hollett has just written about this as well. Check it out.

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  • Ken
    July 27, 2010 - 14:53

    Thanks for the information. The news stories I've heard were sketchy on details. This will be an important debate -- the ecological and visual integrity of the national park versus the plan to bring additional power to the Island from Labrador. If only the power lines could be buried underground.