The NunatuKavut Community Council has accused Nalcor Energy of hiding the true extent of the on-site preliminary work for the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project.
The work includes creation of a new access road to the proposed dam site, addition of a power line and communications infrastructure. It is valued in the tens of millions of dollars.
At a news conference held at the NunatuKavut Community Council offices in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, council president Todd Russell pointed to photos taken during a helicopter flight over the work area Friday, Sept. 28.
He said the pictures show Nalcor has downplayed the amount of work being done around Muskrat Falls and violated federal Fisheries and environment regulations.
“We are locked out of the site, denied reports and our aboriginal fisheries guardians were barred from doing a site inspection. Government and Nalcor talk publicly about a project that is about to happen — little does anyone know that construction is proceeding at a very rapid pace behind these closed and guarded gates,” he stated.
Gilbert Bennett, Nalcor Energy vice-president and Lower Churchill project leader, said the Crown corporation has been consulting with aboriginal groups, including NunatuKavut, throughout the development of the project to date.
Documentation filed during the environmental assessment process for the dam show NunatuKavut would have been aware of the project timeline and construction plans.
“There are a variety of permits that are required for the preliminary work and we’ve got all of those permits,” Bennett told The Telegram late Tuesday afternoon. “Various aboriginal groups, including NunatuKavut, have been consulted on those applications.”
Reason for limitations on site access
In stating his position, Russell repeatedly referred to a guarded security gate on an access road to the worksite, saying it is a sign of an attempt to keep the extent of the work under wraps.
Asked about the point, Bennett said limiting access to the area is part of a larger safety protocol, standard for Nalcor sites. It includes, among other things, a requirement that anyone looking to enter the work area be briefed about potential safety hazards.
“At the end of the day, (the) safety of everybody on the site is of paramount concern for us,” Bennett said.
As for the preliminary work planned for the site, “we’re getting toward the end of the program.”
Further work awaits a “go or no” decision on the project by the provincial government.
The Muskrat Falls dam work has been released from the environmental assessment process. The Labrador-Island Link, the bulk of the transmission infrastructure connected with the Lower Churchill development, is still being assessed.
The NunatuKavut Community Council has previously voiced objection to the environmental review process as it stands and to the project as a whole.
As The Telegram reported in a story published Sept. 17, Russell has described himself as, “absolutely against this project,” explaining he sees no benefit for the Inuit-Métis people living in the area.
“We’re getting run over,” said Ken Mesher, an elder within the NunatuKavut community who spoke alongside the council president Tuesday.
“They’re coming in and invading our territory. It’s not right. … We’ve got to stand up, take a stand on what’s happening.”
Earlier this week, members of NunatuKavut set up a road “slow down” area, as opposed to a road block, along part of the Trans-Labrador Highway to draw attention to their objections to the project as it stands.
“We are looking at our legal options,” Russell confirmed Tuesday. “In terms of our on-the-ground action, I can only say to you it will probably become more intense and more direct.”
However, he has offered to sit down with Nalcor and the provincial government to work through the issues raised.
“We have an extensive record of consultation with NunatuKavut. We certainly want to keep the lines of communication open,” Bennett said.