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Russell Wangersky: Tempers rising on the turbine trail

It’s about 380 kilometres, and most of it is on a public highway. It’s a blue and winding route on Nalcor’s own maps, a trip through Cartwright and then onto Route 516 and Route 510 in Labrador, and that’s an awful lot of distance to cover. Especially when you’re forced to move at a crawl.

Russell Wangersky

I don’t want to create a self-fulfilling prophecy by writing about it, but you can see the stars aligning: as Nalcor’s injunction continues to jail protesters at the project gates, tempers are clearly rising.

You can argue that Nalcor Energy is now facing the most severe pinch-point in the continuing standoff between indigenous protesters and the development of the Muskrat Falls, and it’s going to happen on a public road.

Nalcor has been pretty upfront about the broad strokes of the trip: four convoys of huge 200-tonne transformers are set to make their way from Cartwright to the Muskrat Falls site at extremely slow speeds, each one-kilometre-long convoy taking about eight days to make the trip, followed by the equipment’s return trip to Cartwright.

If early transports from Witless Bay to the Soldier’s Pond site have been any example, updates on the transport of the transformers will be public and detailed. That means everyone will know, at least in broad terms, where the convoy is going to be.

The first convoy set out on Thursday, and you can imagine that, by then, Nalcor’s legal team had already planned the strategy for seeking a new injunction if there was any interference with the vehicles and their massive loads.

There are extra police in Labrador right now, though no one is saying just how many; an RCMP statement simply says, “The RCMP’s job is also to uphold and protect the right of Canadians to peacefully and lawfully express their opinions and views while ensuring public order, so that businesses and their employees can safely carry out their lawful work.”

And the protesters are not in a particularly good mood, especially after three of them refused to agree to obey the court injunction that’s already in place, and were quickly jailed and sent to St. John’s.

That means a confluence of events.

This transport is a key part of keeping the project even close to the delayed and revised schedule that Nalcor is trying to meet: there’s only so much time to get the transformers to the site, and there’s a lot of spots where things could get difficult.

In fact, the transport has already been stopped once — the transformers were supposed to travel to Muskrat Falls last November, but the transport was stopped when residents of Cartwright voted not to allow the convoy through their town.

There have been small protests in Cartwright with the arrival of the first transformers last week, and the protest and the project’s gates earlier this month were supposedly triggered by the announcement that Nalcor would begin the transformer transport again.

You don’t have to be a betting person to imagine where this is going: the main question is where along the route the slow-moving convoy is likely to face opposition.

I’d be betting that the odds of a protest increase with every kilometre closer the transformers get to the gates.

Keep this in mind: the last time there were protests about the transformers, it delayed their delivery by eight full months.
This is the most significant delivery that’s likely to be made this construction season, and blocking it would be the single-most effective option to delay construction even further.

If you wanted to make a point, this would be the place to make it.

And if you’re wondering whether Happy Valley-Goose Bay Mayor Jamie Snook was exaggerating when he told CBC News that his understanding was that there were “a couple hundred or more extra RCMP resources in the region,” you can see why he might actually be right on.

Some summer days are hotter than others.


Russell Wangersky’s column appears in 30 SaltWire newspapers and websites in Atlantic Canada. He can be reached at — Twitter: @wangersky.

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