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Muskrat Falls Inquiry hearings start in Labrador

Commissioner Richard LeBlanc at the first day of hearings Friday of the Commission of Inquiry Respecting the Muskrat Falls Project, at the Beothuck Building in St. John’s.
Muskrat Falls Inquiry Commissioner Richard LeBlanc. - Joe Gibbons file photo/The Telegram

First week of public proceedings regarding hydroelectric project begin in Happy Valley-Goose Bay

Monday marks the first day, in the first week, in the first phase of scheduled public hearings for the Commission of Inquiry Respecting the Muskrat Falls Hydroelectric Project.

More than 100 days of hearings lie ahead, but it begins with two weeks at the Lawrence O’Brien Arts Centre in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, with opening remarks from Commissioner Richard LeBlanc.

The session begins at 9:30 a.m. NT (9 a.m. local time). The hearings are also being live-streamed on the inquiry website.

First up on the witness list is Bent Flyvbjerg, chair of major programme management at Oxford University’s Saïd Business School, with his university profile referring to him as the most cited scholar in the world on megaproject management. He has published specifically on hydroelectric development.

Also scheduled during the week are representatives for the Nunatsiavut Government, Conseil des Innu de Ekuanitshit, Innu Nation and NunatuKavut Community Council. There is also Jason Churchill, who has written on the history of hydroelectric development on the Churchill River.

Nalcor Energy president and CEO Stan Marshall is scheduled to appear Wednesday (though the schedule may change at the discretion of the commissioner). And it is expected a new report — a first piece of audit work undertaken for the inquiry by Grant Thornton — will be tabled by the end of the week.

The inquiry is not scheduled to sit on Thursday, and reporters have been told a tour is in the works for inquiry representatives of the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric dam site, just outside of Happy Valley-Goose Bay.

LeBlanc made the decision early on to split his inquiry into three phases, with this first phase focused on the preliminary review and sanctioning of the project. That includes: considering if proponent Nalcor Energy (a Crown corporation) fairly considered other options to provide electricity to Newfoundland and Labrador, the decision not to conduct a full review of the project under the auspices of the province’s Public Utilities Board, and what might in retrospect explain the cost climbing by more than $6 billion, to the current estimated price tag of $12.7 billion.

Phase 1 of the review will continue into December. Phase 2 will begin in 2019 and focus on the construction period. Inquiry hearings are scheduled to continue into August 2019.

One of the challenges for LeBlanc throughout the inquiry will be the timeline involved — both the sheer ground to be covered, but also establishing clearly what point in the timeline witnesses are referring to, and what was really understood at any particular time.

For the first phase alone, inquiry staff issued a reference timeline to reporters, with key dates and brief descriptions. It is six pages long and covers from “the early twentieth century,” being pre-1961, to Dec. 17, 2012 — the day the project was sanctioned by then-premier Kathy Dunderdale.

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