“There’s not a lot to update on the Eagle River Waterway Park.”
That statement, unofficial and unattributed as it must be, is the only new word that’s come out of the government about the proposal since Charlene Johnson, former premier Danny Williams’ environment minister, announced the province would be withholding much of the river’s watershed from the Mealy Mountains National Park.
“The boundary for the national park reserve has been established, along with a conceptual boundary for an adjacent waterway provincial park,” reads the Feb. 5, 2010 federal/provincial statement.
“A waterway provincial park in the Eagle River watershed will encompass some 3,000 square kilometres of wilderness and include almost the entire length of the Eagle River from the headwaters to the sea.”
Johnson claimed the government was “pleased” to be involved in protecting so much of Labrador, “these special places for all time,” but she never really explained why the Progressive Conservatives, who have never shown they like provincial parks, felt compelled to hive the Eagle River off from the federal project, thus dumping the development and operation costs onto the provincial taxpayer. This refusal of the government to explain itself is sadly typical.
Yvonne Jones (now Labrador MP, but then MHA for Cartwright-L’Anse au Clair) caught wind of the government’s plan at least two years in advance, but her questions in the House of Assembly could not get the mouthpiece-of-the-day to reveal anything except the most general information:
“Nothing has been finalized. Things are under discussion.”
Nothing has changed today, either. About a month after the February announcement, then Lt.-Gov. John Crosbie briefly mentioned the waterway park in his 2010 Speech from the Throne, but that’s the last attention the government has given the matter. If Crosbie had nothing to say about plans to set up the park, maybe that’s because there weren’t any — and probably aren’t any now. By the February 2010 announcement, the federal and provincial governments had already outlined the steps they would take to establish the national park reserve, but nothing was arranged for Eagle River.
There’s a rumour someone in the Department of Environment and Conservation was detailed to work on the project, but it remains unsubstantiated since requests for information seem to dissipate as they rise towards the upper echelons of the bureaucracy. No response ever arrived — only a single unofficial remark: no update at present.
That’s not to say nothing whatsoever has been happening around the Eagle River. In fact, there’s big news for business. Just one year after the provincial government declared it will protect the Eagle River as a waterway park, it released a map of it among a series intended to support mineral exploration in the area.
“These geoscientific maps provide mining interests with a clearer picture of the great mineral opportunities in eastern Labrador,” then Labrador Affairs minister John Hickey announced.
No areas seem to be excluded from exploration, which supports suspicions that the PC government has never planned to actually set up a waterway park. It only wanted the river removed from the irrevocable protection of the national park system so that the world famous salmon river would “for all time” remain available for various kinds of industrial exploitation — not only by mining interests, but possibly even as the site of another hydroelectric dam.
The current Kathy Dunderdale government has had at least one chance to prove its critics and their suspicions wrong. Just last year, a new Labrador group called the Friends of the Eagle River (the members of which include fish camp operators, outfitters and local residents) asked former finance minister Tom Marshall to include “funding to establish the Eagle River Waterway Park” in the upcoming budget. None was forthcoming, and it’s clear none ever will be under the Progressive-Conservatives.
Unfortunately, the diminishing protection of the Eagle River is only one small example among so very many of how the government-of-the-day feels its mandate is to open as much of Labrador as possible to massively destructive, profit-driven corporate exploitation.
As long as the PCs remain in power, those who protest can only wait until they’re gone — and until then, mourn the wanton devastation of so much of what little is left of the natural world.
Michael Johansen is a writer living in Labrador.