Nalcor’s vice-president apologizes for Muskrat Falls protest sign removal

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Says snowclearing reason sign was placed at back of clearing

Gilbert Bennett, Nalcor vice-president, for the Lower Churchill Project, told the Labradorian on Friday he took personal responsibility for the removal of a Muskrat Falls protest sign and apologized over the incident.

Gilbert Bennett, Nalcor vice-president, for the Lower Churchill Project, speaks at the Lawrence O’Brien Arts Centre on Friday. He was in Happy Valley-Goose Bay to celebrate the success of the Labrador Aboriginal Training Program. — Photo by Derek Montague/The Labradorian

However, he cited snowclearing as the reason the sign was replaced on the clearing — not at the front where it had been originally and visible to motorists on the Trans-Labrador Highway — but at the back of the clearing and lower to the ground.

The controversy started more than a week ago when Nalcor removed the anti-Muskrat Falls project sign which read: “STOP, MUSKRAT FALLS PROJECT, DEATH OF 8 RIVERS, TRAMPLED RIGHTS, MAKE WORK PROJECT, CORPORATE WELFARE.”

The sign was located in the “safety zone,” which was constructed following Nalcor’s court injunction against the NunatuKavut Community Council last year, which prevents people from protesting within 50 metres of the Muskrat Falls work site. The court order states that protesters are allowed to use signage as part of their demonstrations inside the safety zone.

After the sign was removed, Nalcor quickly put it back up, realizing that a mistake had been made.

“First and foremost, we apologize for taking the sign down,” Bennett said.

“The court order says that signage is permitted. We looked at that and said the sign needs to be there. So, it went back and we’re fully supportive of people’s desire, need … to express an opinion.

“It was a corporate decision and I’m responsible for the project. … Whatever happens at the project, I’m ultimately responsible.”

When The Labradorian first contacted a Nalcor representative about the incident on Dec. 6, an email was sent from Bennett, stating, “Nalcor had some concerns expressed about the sign and the company made a decision to remove it; however, upon further consideration we realized that decision was not appropriate and we have placed the sign back. We do respect the rights of those who have objections to the project to share those objections in this manner.”

When asked if Nalcor could provide specifics about the concerns it had about the sign, the email response stated, “No, just that there were concerns expressed originally, but the sign has since been put back.”

On Friday, however, Bennett explained that he and others were taken by surprise to see that a sign was standing in the safety zone for such a long period of time.

“I think the view was that, that was an area where you’d have people come by and they would express (their viewpoints),” said Bennett, when asked why the sign was taken down in the first place.

“We weren’t really expecting to see signs erected there permanently.”

On Dec. 6, two of the sign makers, Jim and John Learning, went back to the safety zone after hearing that the sign was put back up.

Once at the site they discovered that the sign wasn’t put back in the right spot. Originally, the sign was at the front of the clearing, in plain view for people to see as they drove past on the Trans-Labrador Highway.

Now, however, it was at the back of the clearing and much lower to the ground than before.

Bennett explained that Nalcor put it back in a different spot because it didn’t want to damage the sign when crews have to perform snow removal duties in the area.

“We looked at the site, and we have to maintain the site. We have to do snowclearing,” Bennett said.

“So, whether it was front or back, I didn’t have a particular perspective … operationally. The fellas looked at it and said the sign needs to go in a place where it could not be damaged, because we don’t want that to happen either.”

On Dec. 7, Jim and John Learning returned to the safety zone, once more, to put the sign back in its original spot.

A day later, Jim filed a complaint with the RCMP, accusing Nalcor of theft.

RCMP Cpl. Rick Mills could not comment on whether or not the investigation is still ongoing, because the case’s investigator was in court.

The Labradorian

Organizations: NunatuKavut Community Council, RCMP, Trans-Labrador Highway.Now

Geographic location: Labrador

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