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Pam Frampton: Muskrat Falls — yes, it’s personal (part 4)

Members of the Labrador Land Protectors protested in front of the Office of Labrador Affairs in Happy Valley-Goose Bay this week. One of the demands they had was the immediate lowering of the water level in the Muskrat Falls reservoir, which the Premier announced would happen on June 21.
Members of the Labrador Land Protectors protest in front of the Office of Labrador Affairs in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, June 2017. — Facebook photo

“Muskrat Falls is destroying our province,” says a woman who moved back home to Newfoundland and Labrador from Alberta three years ago after an economic downturn there.

Pam Frampton
Pam Frampton

Now, her family is heading west again. Her husband is already gone, and she and their three young children hope to join him soon.

Because her children require special care, the family has been struggling on one income since 2016’s draconian budget.

“Muskrat Falls, I think, is the tipping point…,” she said. “I feel like we’re not in a democracy at all. (The government decides) what they want, they take government funds and then run with it.”

Feelings of disillusionment and disenfranchisement are common when people are saddled with a crushing financial burden they did not ask to bear. The $12.7-billion hydroelectric project will have people paying extortionate electricity rates for years.

Yet ordinary people don’t have meaningful input into megaprojects. What they are told is filtered through political speeches rippling with superlatives and they are given regular “progress reports” that contain only the rosiest highlights.

So when the “least cost option” comes in at twice the initial estimate, you can understand the resentment; we’ll pay for it, yet had no say about how much we could afford to spend, the impracticality of winter construction in a harsh climate, or the environmental ramifications.

When I asked via Twitter last month if Muskrat Falls was making people rethink their future in this province, I was deluged with responses.

Feelings of disillusionment and disenfranchisement are common when people are saddled with a crushing financial burden they did not ask to bear. The $12.7-billion hydroelectric project will have people paying extortionate electricity rates for years.

One man wrote, “Muskrat Falls is certainly not the only problem, but $13 billion in debt will have decades of impacts on all kinds of things like health care and basic services. Even considering federal bailout options, the collective debt is unsustainable and the complete lack of accountability is absolutely soul-crushing.”

Said another, “Muskrat Falls will have the largest impact on our economy in history, dwarfing the cod moratorium.”

Anyone who knows 48-year-old Lorna Yard from Witless Bay knows she is not easily defeated. And yet with the debt coming due from Muskrat Falls, even she and her husband, both of whom have good jobs, are making plans for their own eventual departure.

“For me,” she wrote via email, “the sad and reluctant answer is it changed my entire life plan. … I’ve lived in Witless Bay my entire life. In fact — my family came across the pond with Baltimore. We’ve been here since the early 1700s.

“But between the price of electricity … gas, the levy and fees, income tax increase, tax on insurance, we’re seriously being hammered. The impending doubling of electricity bills was the final straw for us. Newfoundland will be no place for old men.

“We made the decision last fall to leave when we retire. … It’s a decision I honestly never thought I’d make. I was adamant I’d never leave Newfoundland under threat of firing squad. But I also know when I do hang up my hat after 30 years of work, I’m not prepared to have to choose between food and heating my home when I’m 70.”

Suzanne Steele, 55, has short and long-term rental properties and says a doubling of electricity rates will be disastrous for her business, and tourism generally.

Suzanne Steele
Suzanne Steele

 

“With the rising costs of electricity, combined with all of the taxes, I have to question whether or not it’s worth it to stay in this business, and in general, to stay in N.L. …

“I am passionate about N.L. — I love the people, the culture, the pace, the uniqueness and beauty of rural N.L. …. However, for the first time in my life I am considering the idea of selling everything and leaving. … It’s going to affect each and every person living on this island…

“You really have to question if this project was initiated for the benefit of the people of N.L. — and if not, then who does it serve?”

That’s the $12.7-billion question.

Let’s hope the inquiry will answer it.

Muskrat Falls is having a very real adverse effect on thousands of people in this province. Thanks to all who shared their stories.

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Related columns by this author

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

Pam Frampton: Muskrat Falls — yes, it's personal (part 2)

Pam Frampton: Muskrat Falls — yes, it's personal (part 3)

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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