(Protestors march against the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project in June 2016.)
APTN National News
Indigenous leaders in Labrador are speaking out about a broken promise over the controversial hydroelectric project at Muskrat Falls.
Part of an agreement reached last October between Innu and Inuit leaders and the Premier of Newfoundland and Labrador stipulated that if the Muskrat Falls reservoir was flooded, the waters would be released in the spring.
Nalcor Energy, the provincially-owned corporation developing Muskrat Falls, announced on June 12 to the public that the water levels in the reservoir wouldn’t be lowered until mid-July.
Nunatsiavut President Johannes Lampe called it “a direct contravention to one of the commitments made during the fall meeting.”
On Monday morning, Labrador Land Protectors gathered outside the Labrador and Aboriginal Affairs building where the local office of the Premier Dwight Ball is located in Happy Valley-Goose Bay.
Ball is also Minister for Aboriginal Affairs. Land protectors are demanding he resigns. Ultimately, they want Muskrat Falls shut down. Right now, they want the reservoir water released.
The main concern is methylmercury.
A 2015 study by Harvard University indicated trees and topsoil left in the reservoir after flooding will create the naturally occurring neurotoxin and may contaminate traditional food sources downstream.
Last fall, as the date to start flooding neared, protests ramped up. Land protectors wanted the reservoir fully cleared. Nalcor said it needed to raise the waters upstream of the spillway to protect its infrastructure from ice damage through the winter.
After a meeting that went on into the early morning hours of October 26, 2016, the premier and Indigenous leaders announced a deal. A key promise was to release the flood waters in the spring before the water warmed and methylmercury became an issue.
Last week, Lampe wrote a letter to Premier Dwight Ball.
“I advised him that we fully expect him and his government to honor the commitments that were made last fall,” said Lampe. “Water levels in the reservoir should be lowered immediately, in a controlled and safe manner, and in consultation with the Nunatsiavut Government, the Innu Nation and the NunatuKavut Community Council, as well as surrounding communities.”
Indigenous leaders became aware of Nalcor’s revised dates to lower the water in the reservoir in mid-May through a planning meeting for the Independent Expert Advisory Committee, a group set up to address concerns around Muskrat Falls.
President of the NunatuKavut Community Council Todd Russell said his staff expressed concerns at the meeting. But those weren’t reflected in a letter at the end of May from Nalcor President and CEO Stan Marshall to the Indigenous leaders.
“It is very disappointing that Nalcor did not acknowledge or address our concerns immediately so that our experts could appropriately review the data,” said Russell in a statement released on Monday. “This would help determine whether there would be elevated production of methylmercury as a result of prolonged impoundment during the spring months.”
An email response from the Premier’s office said, “The Provincial Government is engaging the indigenous leaders directly on this matter. The Premier remains committed to the terms that were agreed upon on October 26, 2016.”
“The Premier assured me that all commitments will be fulfilled,” said President Lampe in a media release Friday. The Nunatsiavut leader is expecting further word this week.
The reason for the delay, according to a Facebook post by Nalcor Energy on June 12, was to allow for the installation of “necessary equipment that will ensure the safety of river users near the spillway and facility. Once this work is completed, the water level in the reservoir will be lowered.”