By Gilbert Bennett
I’m writing in response to Michael Johansen’s column, “The very stones beneath their feet” (Sept. 15).
Since our work on the Lower Churchill project began, Nalcor Energy has carried out extensive consultation with local residents and businesses, aboriginal groups, as well as municipal, provincial and federal governments. Despite Mr. Johansen’s insinuation that Nalcor has moved forward without any regard for others’ opinions or concerns, the truth is that our consultation work in preparation for this project has involved hundreds of interviews, meetings and information sessions with individuals and groups around the province.
Nalcor’s ongoing site development and preparation work currently being carried out near Muskrat Falls is a proven approach to effective management of large-scale projects.
Although Mr. Johansen suggests Nalcor jumped the gun, moving forward with this work today is a prudent decision. It is common in large projects to do up front, preparatory work. None of this work could have proceeded without release from the environmental assessment for the hydroelectric generating facility.
Nalcor is committed to managing environmental effects on the surrounding area.
This includes protecting and preserving the historic and cultural resources in the project area, and ensuring that site work is carried out in a way that is respectful of the region’s heritage. So what Mr. Johansen may call “a few pesky bits of rock,” at Nalcor we refer to as important archeological resources. Their presence in the project area was neither a surprise nor an inconvenience.
Nalcor conducted extensive baseline studies on both the north and south sides of Muskrat Falls. This work included a review of topographical maps, aerial surveys, rating of archeological potential within the project footprint, physical sampling and test pitting, and identification of sites requiring excavation prior to project-related activities.
Nalcor is following a diligent process to ensure that historic resources within the footprint of the project are protected, preserved and/or completely recorded in advance of site work. We have been and will continue to work closely with the Provincial Archeology Office (PAO) on all phases of this important work.
Physical sampling and test pitting have been conducted in the areas of planned work for 2012 and 2013, including the areas on the north side of Muskrat Falls.
Based on this sampling and sampling completed as part of the environmental assessment process, several known historic sites have been identified. Our proposed mitigation for these sites was submitted to the PAO for approval and distributed to aboriginal groups for consultation.
Provincially certified archeologists and a team of field staff contracted
by Nalcor have been carrying out approved and necessary recovery work. Upon project sanction, the historic resources recovery work will be expanded in advance of further site work, as appropriate.
Nalcor has also put in place a number of measures to ensure the protection and preservation of historic resources near Muskrat Falls. In areas where historic resources have been identified, all recovery work will be completed before equipment can operate in the area. In accordance with the Historic Resources Act of Newfoundland and Labrador, only when all required excavation is completed and appropriate mitigation measures have been put in place will equipment or machinery be cleared to operate in the identified areas.
In addition, a 50-metre buffer zone has been established around known historic sites, and Nalcor has developed a historic resources contingency plan, which ensures that anyone working on the project site is trained in procedures for basic historic resource identification and protection should they encounter a potential artifact while working. Innu Nation monitors witnessed these mitigation measures when they visited the site in early September.
The development of Muskrat Falls will help our province meet its domestic power needs well into the future. It will eliminate our reliance on costly and unpredictable oil for electricity generation, help stabilize electricity rates for consumers for decades, and create substantial economic benefits and thousands of jobs for Newfoundlanders and Labradorians during construction.
Our work to date has included significant consultation with individuals and groups throughout the province.
We will continue to consult with all stakeholders as we move forward, providing accurate information upon which Newfoundlanders and Labradorians can form their opinions about the project.
Gilbert Bennett is vice-president for the Lower Churchill project with Nalcor Energy.