Processing the Lower Churchill

Michael Johansen
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Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick ...
It was not a sinister sound. It just happened to be the only noise that could be heard after representatives from the secretariat for the panel appointed to review the proposal to build two new hydroelectric stations on Labrador's Churchill River asked the few people who came to hear their presentation last week if they had any questions.
Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick ...
The clock is in the theatre of North West River's Labrador Interpretation Centre. When all the seats are full of interested and engaged people, tiny sounds made by quartz clocks simply can't be heard.
However, last week's event - billed as an "information session (that) will give aboriginal groups, the public, governments and other interested parties an opportunity to hear about how the joint panel will proceed and how (groups, governments and all the rest) can participate ..." - only attracted enough people to fill up a few seats close to the exit. While they were interested in the issue, they were clearly less than engaged in the presentation. The request for questions seemed to have sparked a scramble to think up something to replace the first one that popped into everyone's head: why am I here when I could be home watching old American reruns on the CBC?
The secretariat can't be blamed for the lacklustre response. The fault was not in them, but in their material. For them it's their first ride on the Lower Churchill boondoggle. For Labradorians it's their fourth or fifth time on the megaproject merry-go-round, depending on how you count more than three decades of proposals, presentations, panels, hearings and soon-forgotten history-making announcements.
Just ask a stand-up comic how many laughs he gets with a 30-year-old joke. A good show needs new material, but there's nothing fresh about the Lower Churchill.
Questions did come, but many people left unsatisfied. The presenters didn't mind being interrupted as they outlined the upcoming series of consultations and decision-making periods and they were apparently eager to take on all questions openly and honestly, but they simply weren't able to answer several of the queries that fell outside their jurisdiction.
They are the process men. While they were able to say that the much-anticipated public hearings might begin sometime next spring, their answers were unclear as to whether (for example) the river would remain navigable, or whether and to whom the government would pay compensation for the destruction it wants to instigate. Neither could they give any information about an issue that has many in central Labrador worried: Hydro's proposal to run groundwire lines down both shores of Lake Melville. That question belonged to an entirely different environmental assessment process, the audience was told.
Many people were actually aware of the panel secretariat's visit, but didn't bother to attend because they considered it unnecessary. However, by skipping it they might have done themselves a disservice, having missed an opportunity to gain what is perhaps one new insight into the importance of the process the two men were in Labrador to explain.
This process, as it turns out, may be the only thing the public has working in its favour, since nothing in environmental assessment legislation requires provincial officials to implement or even read any conclusions and recommendations the joint panel will write into its final report. In fact, Danny Williams is probably just waiting for the whole thing to be done and over with so he can go ahead with what he's already decided.
The important point that came out was that the more citizens who participate in the process and make their opinions known, the harder it will be for the government to simply ignore them. The whole lower Churchill River valley could still be developed, even if the panel concludes that to protect the environment it shouldn't be touched, but at least the premier will be forced to explain himself. Maybe he'll finally just admit that he doesn't really care if hydro mega-projects are "green" or not.

Michael Johansen is a writer living in Labrador.

Organizations: Labrador Interpretation Centre, CBC

Geographic location: Labrador, Churchill, Churchill River North West River Lake Melville

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Recent comments

  • Taxpayer
    July 02, 2010 - 13:10

    Nice negative spin there mike.

  • Taxpayer
    July 01, 2010 - 19:45

    Nice negative spin there mike.