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LETTER: Government must halt impoundment

The provincial government is expecting to hear back from indigenous leaders in Labrador by end of day Friday on the plans to partially flood the reservoir for the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric plant.
Muskrat Falls. — Nalcor Energy photo

On Aug. 7, impoundment of the Muskrat Falls reservoir began, even though serious concerns persist about North Spur dam stability and neurotoxin methylmercury poisoning. I, our NDP caucus, New Democrats, and many Newfoundlanders and Labradorians have been calling on government to reconsider the major consequences of leaving these issues unaddressed.

The geology of the North Spur dam is poorly understood and could be unstable. The NDP, like many others, have called for an independent review of the stability of the North Spur dam. We have asked questions in the House of Assembly. We have read the reports attesting to its stability and still have concerns about the number of disclaimers and uncertainties they contain. International experts have raised concerns about the work that has been done, and work left undone.

We have known about these issues for years. There has been ample time to retain a truly independent (not selected by Nalcor) panel to conduct a cold-eye review of the existing engineering reports and analyze the stability of the dam. Independent dam expert James Gordon has recommended this be done. We have further suggested government retain members of the expert panel that recently reviewed the infamous 2014 Mount Polley Mine tailings dam failure in British Columbia.

The neurotoxin methylmercury is created when vegetation in a reservoir begins to rot after impoundment. It collects in the food sources of people living downstream. Again, the Liberal government has had ample time to address the Muskrat Falls methylmercury issue and had even promised to do so, but still did not.

We have known about these issues for years. There has been ample time to retain a truly independent (not selected by Nalcor) panel to conduct a cold-eye review of the existing engineering reports and analyze the stability of the dam.

Indigenous groups, and government’s own expert panel, agreed that at least some capping of wetlands should occur. Government even recommended targeted wetland capping in January. However, nothing was done and government has offered no good reason for inaction.

Pre-flooding monitoring shows little increase in methylmercury levels to date. However, this neurotoxin will be released over time, after the reservoir has been filled. Hydro-Québec reports that it takes four to 14 years post-impoundment for methylmercury to reach its peak, with the poison remaining in fish, animals and humans for up to 35 years.

Now government has begun impoundment. Nevertheless, we must in good conscience insist one more time that government immediately pause impoundment, undertake wetland capping, and order an independent review of the stability of the North Spur dam.

A collapse of the North Spur will endanger the lives of residents downstream. It could also mean the loss of the project and the collapse of our economy. The health of people living downstream is also in jeopardy. Instead, cost efficiencies are being chosen over the health and safety of our citizens. The people of Labrador, indeed all the people of our province, deserve better.

At this late hour, with so much at stake, we can only hope government will choose wisely and well and take corrective action before it is truly too late.

Alison Coffin

NL NDP Leader

MHA St. John’s East–Quidi Vidi


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