Nalcor ordered to increase clearing at Muskrat Falls reservoir
‘This is a shift in government policy. We are raising the bar,’ says environment minister
By Marilyn Boone, CBC News, October 19, 2016
After weeks of pressure and protests, the Newfoundland and Labrador government is ordering Nalcor to remove more forest cover at the Muskrat Falls reservoir to further address concerns surrounding methylmercury.
Minister of Natural Resources Siobhan Coady and Environment Minister Perry Trimper made the announcement at a news conference at Confederation Building in St. John’s Wednesday.
“Nalcor has been conducting themselves in a way that’s consistent with other hydroelectric projects. However, the anxiety and concern that has manifested itself in the last few days in particular outlines that that is not sufficient,” said Trimper.
“To that end, I have required Nalcor today to implement a clearing as much forest cover as possible scenario.”
A review will be done on whether it is possible or necessary to remove all soil from the reservoir.
Nalcor will also be required to fund a further study on methylmercury, to be designed and conducted by Elsie Sunderland, of the Harvard University research lab.
“We see an opportunity here to raise the bar, to respond to the concerns and we’re willing to do that,” said Trimper.
Listening to people
Government said it takes the concerns of the Innu Nation, the Nunatsiavut government and the NunatuKavut Community Council “very seriously.”
Nine people were arrested Monday at a blockade outside the Muskrat Falls worksite, and demonstrations have disrupted work at government offices in Happy Valley-Goose Bay and Confederation Building in St. John’s.
Inuk artist Billy Gauthier also started a hunger strike on Oct. 14.
“I’ve reached out to him,” Trimper said Wednesday.
“I’m hoping he will reconsider what he’s doing. We need his leadership. We need his voice at this table as we look at other things we can do to address these concerns.”
The government directive to Nalcor comes as the Crown corporation was poised to begin flooding the new reservoir as part of the dam and powerhouse construction at Muskrat Falls.
The company has said that water levels will rise 25 metres initially, and up to 39 metres by 2019.
Coady said the initial flooding will “have to continue” to avoid assets being damaged by ice buildup on the Churchill River, but there could be delays.
“If folks are trying to find a way to stop this project, they’re probably not going to be very happy with what we’re saying today,” said Trimper.
“If they’re concerned about the environment and human health, they should recognize that this is huge progress. This is a shift in government policy. We are raising the bar.”
Nalcor officials have scheduled a news briefing for 2 p.m. Wednesday to address concerns related to methylmercury. The province’s chief medical officer, Dr. David Allison, will take part.