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Questions about wetland capping at Muskrat Falls reservoir remain unanswered

There will likely be many familiar faces seated in the chairs of the House of Assembly after the next provincial general election.
There will likely be many familiar faces seated in the chairs of the House of Assembly after the next provincial general election. - SaltWire Network
ST. JOHN'S, N.L. —

Questions remain unanswered on what caused the provincial government to miss its deadline to cap wetlands at the Muskrat Falls reservoir — and no one seems willing to answer.

In final submissions to the Muskrat Falls Inquiry, Premier Dwight Ball and Natural Resources Minister Siobhan Coady wrote a “miscommunication” led to the missed deadline, preventing wetland capping at the Muskrat Falls reservoir.

“While the evidence showed there were delays in responding to the IEAC recommendations of April 10, 2018, and a miscommunication between the Department of Municipal Affairs and Environment and the cabinet about the possible time frame for scheduling the work, there was absolutely no evidence of any intentional delay or ‘scheme’ on the part of Mr. Ball or Ms. Coady to avoid undertaking the physical mitigation measure of wetland capping in the reservoir,” reads the submission. 

Andrew Parsons. - SaltWire File Photo
Andrew Parsons. - SaltWire File Photo

Nalcor had applied to amend a permit within the Department of Municipal Affairs in July 2018 to proceed with capping of the wetlands, but a decision was not made in time.

The permit in question was applied for during Justice Minister Andrew Parsons’ time as Municipal Affairs and Environment Minister after Eddie Joyce was booted from the Liberal cabinet in April 2018.

On Monday, for the fifth time, The Telegram asked Parsons for comment on his time as minister of Municipal Affairs and Environment, when the deadline for wetland capping was missed. A previous request for comment during the one-day sitting of the House of Assembly on July 23 was passed over to Lisa Dempster, who is the current minister of Municipal Affairs and Environment temporarily and was not in the portfolio at the time of the communication failure characterized by Ball. 

The request for comment was, again, passed over to the current minister.

On Monday, in an interview with The Telegram, Dempster offered this comment on what happened within her department to cause the failure: “I wouldn’t even attempt to comment on something that happened before I went into the department.” 

Opposition Leader Ches Crosbie says that answer is unacceptable.

“That’s a tailor-made excuse for not saying anything more,” said Crosbie. 

“The minister responsible at the time was Andrew Parsons. Are they blaming it on him? The bottom line is we don’t know what happened. Ball said everyone in government knew that he wanted this one, and yet it didn’t get done.”

Crosbie says the questions need answers.

“There’s a lot of dodging of responsibility going on here,” he said. 

“There’s a lot of dodging of responsibility going on here." — Ches Crosbie

In his testimony to the Inquiry, Municipal Affairs and Environment deputy minister Jamie Chippett said he expected a decision was coming on wetland capping – until another change in minister led to a further delay.

“We really thought we would get a decision, and I know Nalcor had had discussions with Martin (Goebel) about the fact that they wanted to move on with this particular piece of work,” Chippett said in his testimony. 

“And, you know, my answer was we need to try to get a decision. And at the end of October, I guess, that’s when we had drafted that first letter that could, potentially, go to Mr. Marshall at Nalcor to … hopefully communicate a decision on capping. But, ultimately, the minister changed and we had direction from the premier to bring it to cabinet in December.”

The meeting was again delayed until January 9, 2019, when cabinet ultimately discovered the deadline had passed.

The $30 million allotted for wetland capping is intended to be paid out to the NunatuKavut Community Council, Innu Nation, and Nunatsiavut Government. However, Nunatsiavut has not agreed to accept its $10-million share of the compensation, stating the money should be spent on methylmercury mitigation.

Twitter: @DavidMaherNL


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