The leader of the NunatuKavut Community Council in Labrador says an arrangement whereby workers involved with the Muskrat Falls project can stay at CFB Goose Bay sets a double standard for housing in the region.
In a news release issued Tuesday, Todd Russell said the arrangement goes against a commitment made by Crown corporation Nalcor Energy in the environmental assessment process and a recommendation by the Joint Review Panel to not house workers in the community or to place an additional strain on the housing shortage in Happy Valley-Goose Bay.
“When our community and the people were suffering the housing crisis ... they were denied access to base housing, even on a temporary basis, to alleviate that concern,” said Russell, speaking with The Telegram Tuesday afternoon.
“So there’s certainly a double standard.”
According to Nalcor, as many as 100 workers are staying at the base, sleeping in army barracks and not the vacant houses located on the base. A spokesman for CFB Goose Bay also confirmed this was the case. Workers have been using the barracks for approximately one week.
Nalcor vice-president Gilbert Bennett said arrangements were made to use the barracks “as an overflow facility” until its camp to accommodate 300 workers opens. Utilities are in the process of being connected to that site. Workers who stay in the barracks eat meals at a local hotel.
“It’s important to note we are using the barracks, not the other housing on the base,” said Bennett. “It literally is just a room for the night.”
Nalcor’s contractor in the area is also making use of hotels and private residences for the time being. When those options were not sufficient, the contractor looked to the barracks, according to Bennett.
“The other thing we’ve seen in the past is that there are times when there are peak demands in the hotels that have caused the hotels to have difficulties making their other commitments,” said Bennett.
“So for example, the annual general meeting for the Combined Councils of Labrador had to be rescheduled because they weren’t able to find hotel space. So there are situations like that, or the winter games that are coming up, when accommodations are certainly at a premium, and using barracks as an overflow in those situations I think is good for everybody — both for us as well as the business community.”
Bennett expects the barracks will continue to be used for “a month or so” until the workers’ camp is ready, and another camp to accommodate an additional 1,500 workers is set to open later this year.
Asked to respond to Russell’s concern that Nalcor is not meeting up to a commitment it made through the environmental assessment process with regards to placing an additional strain on Happy Valley-Goose Bay’s housing shortage, Bennett said Nalcor was meeting its commitment.
“Our commitment in the environmental assessment was to build a camp to house our workers, and we’re following through on that commitment. We have the starter camp on site. We have the contract awarded for the main camp at the work site, so we’ve met our commitment.”
Russell said if base property is considered surplus, a consultation with the aboriginal community is supposed to take place.
“This is an example of a poorly planned process,” he said. “It’s a rush job for a project that hasn’t even been sanctioned.”
Even though the properties in use are barracks where workers do not have access to meal preparation facilities, Russell said it makes no difference to his argument against the practice.
“It’s still housing. This is not a win for the people in the community. The only ones who basically get anything in this is Nalcor, and it’s amazing that a project that brings so little benefit to all the communities, people seem to turn over every stone in moving this forward.”