Muskrat Falls gets go-ahead

Ashley Fitzpatrick
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Concerns remain around potential impacts

The Churchill River — Telegram file photo

The word “disappointed” is “too light a word” to describe how Robin Goodfellow-Baikie felt Thursday, as she read provincial and federal government responses to a report by a joint environmental panel on the development of the Lower Churchill.

A Labrador resident and town councillor with North West River, Goodfellow-Baikie participated in public meetings.

“It’s an assault on the environment in Labrador and what we gain is questionable,” she said when contacted by The Telegram.

To read the provincial and federal response to the joint review on the Lower Churchill Hydro project, click here.

The project’s joint environmental review panel held 30 days of public hearings in nine locations from March 3 to April 15, 2011. Those meetings led to a final report in August 2011, with 83 recommendations that required government response.

The recommendations focused on environmental concerns, but also touched on potential economic and social impacts of the development.

A recommendation for an independent review of a “no project” alternative for supplying power to the province was dismissed by both levels of government — a main source of Goodfellow-Baikie’s disappointment.

However, recommendations for a compensation plan for any affected wetlands and environmental monitoring were accepted.

The federal government also committed “to monitoring and follow-up programs associated with federal regulatory approvals.”

The provincial Department of Environment’s water resources management division will approve plans to be submitted by Nalcor Energy addressing the case of a catastrophic dam failure.

Other recommendations touched on conservation work already ongoing, for example the province’s update of a recovery plan for the Red Wine Mountain caribou (set to be released later this year).


Mercury still at issue

Yet some recommendations raised “downstream” dam issues, one being the potential for mercury build-up in wildlife in the Churchill River and Lake Melville.

There is a study submitted to the panel, “Duration and Extent of Elevated Mercury levels in downstream fish following reservoir creation,” by M. Robin Anderson, a member of the environmental sciences division of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans. It focuses on the effects of the Upper Churchill development since the mid-1970s.

“Fish downstream of the Smallwood Reservoir showed significantly elevated levels of mercury following the creation of the reservoir,” Anderson states.

The Nunatsiavut Government also raised concerns on the subject.

Their written submissions to the panel included a paper by Dr. Elsie Sunderland, a professor of aquatic science in the Department of Environmental Health at the Harvard School of Public Health.

Sunderland found a “lack of data in the downstream environment” on mercury levels.

However, “the human health risk assessment associated with the Lower Churchill project suggests that some indigenous people are already avoiding fish and country food as a main food source because of fears about mercury contamination since flooding of the Upper Churchill,” she found.

“In my expert opinion, there will likely be some increases in biological methylmercury concentrations throughout Lake Melville, although the magnitude of these changes is highly uncertain.”

The panel recommended a pilot study for mercury mitigation and a deeper assessment of downstream impacts.

In response, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans will be requiring Nalcor “to collect additional baseline data on bioaccumulation of methylmercury in fish and on fish habitat” and to conduct a “comprehensive multi-year program to monitor and report on bioaccumulation of methyl mercury in fish (including seals).”

The province said Nalcor “should take the lead” on mercury monitoring.


Project has the go-ahead

Goodfellow-Baikie said she feels too much is being left to Nalcor Energy.

For its part, the Crown corporation is reviewing the government statements.

Meanwhile, “this project will help create jobs, position Atlantic Canada for long-term prosperity and significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” said federal Minister of Natural Resources Joe Oliver.

MP Peter Penashue highlighted the estimated $2.1 billion in income from the project for provincial labour and business and $340 million in tax revenue for the province.

“As you know this project has been on the books for a very long time and it has been discussed with many different people — both non-aboriginal and aboriginal peoples,” he said. “I’m just very, very proud to be a part of it.”

The project is now released from environmental assessment, but will require authorizations from Fisheries and Oceans Canada and Transport Canada, in relation to planned impacts on fish habitat and navigable waters, before construction.

Organizations: Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Department of Environmental Health, Harvard School of Public Health Fisheries and Oceans Canada Transport Canada

Geographic location: Labrador, Chur, North West River Red Wine Mountain Churchill River Lake Melville.There Lake Melville Atlantic Canada

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Recent comments

  • Maurice E. Adams
    March 16, 2012 - 10:35

    Do we need the power? Over the last 6 years on average more than 1/3rd of our "existing" NET capacity has gone UNUSED ---- YEAR OVER YEAR, EVERY YEAR +++++ Last year we spilled 694 GWh from our existing island hydro sites --- because we have no demand for it.+++++++ We NEED Vale's plant to come on stream just to use up what we are now spilling (and we still have 1/3rd unused). +++++ So we will spend (go in debt) an additional $7-$12 billion for power WE DO NOT NEED. +++++ Even Holyrood is used less than 15%. ++++++ Even during the worst winter months, Holyrood is used on average only 44% (down from 50%). ++++++ Now we will pay billions, go in debt billions, to get 40% of Muskrat's energy (1,800 GWh). That is 1,200 GWh LESS THAN Holyrood's net capacity. ++++++ A lot of money, a lot of debt, and a lot of risk to replace 60% of what a fully paid for Holyrood asset already provides. Emera gets 20% for free, Western Labrador mining giants (Danny's clients) get 40% for much less than cost ----- and the island? we get to pay for the works, pay for all the cost overruns, take all the risk, take on the debt, force our kids to pay off OUR debt over 50 years, pay increased rates, --- and what do we get ? less than 2/3rd's the power that Holyrood already provides. ++++++ We end up with less capacity than we start with.

  • Louie
    March 16, 2012 - 10:08

    That the government of Canada is so quick to get behind this project which has tremendous benefits for mainland Canada and Nova Scotia should be a red flag for NLgovernment. The project is a significant gamble to warehouse energy into the mainland market which is very competitive. Power will have to be sold at rates much lower than the cost of production and transmission. The NL captive taxpayers/ratepayers will essentially subsidize the surplus power sales. It is not the least cost stategy for supplying power to the domestic market. Government believes it has a mandate to carry on with the project. Govenment should come clean and not try to sell its constituents a bill of goods. Compare muskrat to the least cost option of smaller developments and repatriating the Upper Churchill power in 2041 and get on with it. Fooling all of the people who have to pay up and shut up is not what the goal of government should be.

  • sealcove
    March 16, 2012 - 10:06

    John smith must have one of williams minnows

  • Territory of Labrador
    March 16, 2012 - 10:05

    The residents of Labrador demand the democratic right to a free and open vote on this project. It is US that will be impacted the most. Our natural resources and environment is at stake all for the profit of the island. We were not given the chance to vote on being forced into a partnership with Newfoundland when we were appropriated from Quebec, well not this time. Now it is time to tie this fiasco up in the provincial and supreme court of Canada for the next fifty years unless we have our say. If the residents of the island require power, then use the resource they have, WIND. Start erecting turbines and be self sufficient for a change rather that taking from others to support yourself.

  • Maurice E. Adams
    March 16, 2012 - 09:25

    Do we need the power? Over the last 6 years more than 1/3rd of our "existing" NET capacity has gone UNUSED. +++++ Last year we spill 694 GWh from our existing island hydro sites --- because we have no demand. We NEED Vale's plant just to use up what we are now spilling (and we still have 1/3rd unused). +++++ so we will spend $7-$12 billion for power WE DON"T NEED. Even Holyrood is used less than 15%. Even in the worst of winter, it is used 44% (down from 50%). We are to get 40% from Muskrat (1,800 GWh), that is 1,200 GWh LESS THAN Holyrood's net capacity. _____ A lot of money and a lot of risk to replace 60% of Holyrood don't you think?

  • John Smith
    March 16, 2012 - 07:29

    Every method of power generation will have an enviromental impact. If you burn dirty bunker C oil for 30 years those who live around that plant will suffer, the fish in the streams will suffer, its the price we pay to have the lights on. I wish we could live in a world where electricity was free, and had no adverse on anyone or anything...but that is not the way it is. I think the muskrat dam will have the least enviromental impact of any proposal we can come up with. It all comes back to the two questions, as Minister Kennedy often we need the power? Is Muskrat the lowest cost option? I firmly belive that the answer to these two queations is yes. I have yet to hear anyone convince me otherwise. MHI even went as far as to say NALCOR is underestimating our future needs. We have the innu, and innuit onside, we have the lowest rates in history, we have the best credit rating in our history, we have the loan guarantee, we have Navigant, MHI, Tom Johnson, Wade Locke, Jack Harris, Danny Williams, Joe Oliver, Darrel Dexter,Nalcor, Emera, and many many others all saying this is the best option. Our power rates have gone up by 60% since 1998, we will suffer if we stay tied to oil. Time to get on with this project before interest rates go up, and it ends up costing us even more.

    • Taxpayer
      March 16, 2012 - 08:10

      Do we need the power? It looks like we will. Is it the lowest cost option? We don't know. MHI repeatedly states that it was asked to look at two options only. How can you have a "least" or "lowest" cost option when only two options are ever explored? The words "least" and "lowest" means a comparison of three or more options and there is no evidence that such an analysis took place. It looks like MF is the lower cost alternative to Holyrood but we don't know if it's the least cost option..