Muskrat environmental assessments ongoing

Ashley Fitzpatrick
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Ministers have yet to respond to joint review panel report

The proposed Muskrat Falls hydro project has yet to be released from environmental assessments at either the federal or provincial level.

The project cannot proceed without approval at both levels.

To date, the environmental reviews have involved the creation of a joint federal-provincial review panel, a round of public consultations and a subsequent report by the joint panel — published in August 2011 — providing recommendations on the project.

On its website, the federal Major Projects Management Office spells out 22 “milestones and tasks” that must be covered off in the environmental assessment process, from the submission of a description of the project to a final “course of action” decision. No. 20 of 22 is “government response to joint-review panel report.”

There are also multiple other actions required to achieve authorizations under the Navigable Waters Protection Act and the Fisheries Act (in relation to impacts on fish and fish habitat).

The Labrador-Island Link and the Maritime Link (between this province and Nova Scotia) are registered separately for federal-provincial environmental assessments.

Both the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency and the federal Department of Natural Resources were contacted Friday with questions regarding the progress of the environmental assessment work.

There was no response to the questions as of deadline Tuesday.

The federal Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver is scheduled to be in St. John’s Thursday, addressing the Newfoundland and Labrador Oil and Gas Industries Association (NOIA).

Meanwhile, provincial minister Terry French has said he is working on his response to the federal-provincial review panel report. The work is detailed, he said, and the information gathering crosses multiple departments.

French said he feels it would be appropriate to co-ordinate the issuing of the federal and provincial responses to the joint review panel report.

As for when these responses might be filed, “I wouldn’t want to set a timeline,” he said.

The joint panel raised issues on various topics, including “considerable debate” over the potential for the damming of Muskrat Falls to cause “mercury moving downstream,” past the mouth of the river and into Goose Bay and Lake Melville.

For its part, Nalcor has promised to monitor the water bodies, to watch for any signs of such environmental contamination.

Organizations: Major Projects Management Office, Maritime Link, Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency Department of Natural Resources Newfoundland and Labrador Oil and Gas Industries Association NOIA

Geographic location: Muskrat Falls, Nova Scotia, Goose Bay Lake Melville.For

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