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Pam Frampton: Muskrat Falls — yes, it’s personal (part 1)

Muskrat Falls in Labrador.
Muskrat Falls. — file photo

When Muskrat Falls inquiry hearings begin in September, we should learn more about how and why the project was conceived of, considered necessary and sold as such to Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.

Pam Frampton
Pam Frampton

About how it snowballed so spectacularly over budget, flattening deadlines as it went.

And because parties concerned with the massive project’s toll on the people of the province have standing at the inquiry — including the Muskrat Falls Concerned Citizens Coalition and Consumer Advocate Dennis Browne — we can expect to hear about the crushing financial burden it will have on taxpayers and ratepayers for years to come.

What we likely won’t hear are the personal stories of individual households; the very real financial uncertainties that this $12.7-billion hydroelectric venture have brought to bear on families and how, for some, it has altered their future in ways never anticipated. When electricity rates start to double, some people will have to make the painful choice to pack up and move someplace where the standard of living is cheaper. Some are already going.

And not only is the project having a profound effect on people’s finances, it has sewn seeds of bitterness, as well.

If what we’re truly hoping for from the inquiry is accountability, it’s important that these stories also be heard.

On May 29, I asked people via Twitter to contact me if Muskrat Falls was seriously making them question their future in this province.

I’ve heard from several people — some wary of criticizing the project publicly for fear of career reprisals, others who emailed comments provided I’d protect their identities, and some who wanted to be named.

In this column and next week, I’ll share their thoughts.

Mike Moore is a 28-year-old journalist from Mount Pearl who is actively looking for work on the mainland.

“The way I look at it is, I completely understand that a career in journalism doesn’t pay the greatest, but that’s not why we do it in the first place,” he wrote. “However, the price hike of energy/power will make it incredibly difficult for me on a single income to stay within the province, and if I’m willingly wading into a lower salary career pool, then I’d be better off taking my chances in another province where I’d at least have a fighting chance at surviving on my own.”

Moore says, for many young people, Muskrat Falls was like “the last death rattle.”

“It’s definitely tough,” he says, “because given the option, I imagine a lot of us would stay here… raise a family, and the next generation would do that.…

“It does feel like a betrayal. In the long run, it should’ve made things cheaper for us, and it didn’t. … If it keeps going the way it is… it’s a very real possibility that young people will keep leaving until there’s no young people left.”

One woman wrote to say that, as is the case with many people she knows, her household finances have been stretched to the limit.

“My husband and I are mid-40s,” she wrote. “We grew up here, went to school here, and have been working here ever since.”

“We, like all N.L.’ers, are here for our culture and families. … Opportunities have always been greater elsewhere, but we stayed here — working and paying taxes.

"Over the past two to three years, government fees and levies have risen greatly (constant power bill hikes, tax on insurance, tax on gas, the levy, and so on). We fight each month now to try and stay on top. We are worse off now than five years ago.

“Should the electrical rates go up any further, we will have to leave. We now work to keep everything afloat with little left over to do anything else. My husband took on a second job eight weeks (ago) so that I don’t have to do so. … Several couples we know are trying to sell their homes and move to apartments.

"This is the reality of the current situation. We CAN’T AFFORD another hike.…

"Enough is enough.”

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Pam Frampton is a columnist whose work is published in The Western Star and The Telegram. Email pamela.frampton@thetelegram.com. Twitter: pam_frampton

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