The Independent Expert Advisory Committee (IEAC) for the Muskrat Falls project released its latest set of recommendations on April 11. Todd Russell, president of the Nunatukavut Community Council (NCC), one of the groups that has members sitting on the IEAC, said NCC supports the recommendations.
“We feel these are fair, balanced recommendations that are based on both western science and the views of indigenous experts,” Russell said. “We felt that these do respond in a meaningful way to the objectives of the IEAC and that these recommendations are in the best interest of our people’s health and well-being. That is they deal with mitigating the potential impacts of methylmercury downstream. They deal with monitoring in an ongoing, deep and integral way and they deal with issues of human health.”
The only recommendation the IEAC brought forward that wasn’t unanimous among the groups represented was a recommendation for the removal of more organic material from what will be the hydro dam’s reservoir, which has been estimated to cost between $409 million and $742 million, not including contingency funds, contractor risk premiums and costs associated with additional project delays.
One of the other participants in the IEAC, the Innu Nation, is opposed to the partial clearing of the reservoir, citing the fact it’s never been done before. Non-voting members Nalcor and the provincial government are also opposed. Russell said his group is fully in favour of the partial clearing and also capping of wetlands in the area, which he says are for the same objective.
“The only difference has been, in terms of the voting members, one voting member did not support further clearing and did support capping of wetlands. Both of those have the same objective, how to limit and reduce the potential for organic material to methylate and produce methylmercury. At the heart both of them have the same objective, we just differ on how that objective can be met. I would say the provincial government has a difficult decision to make about whether they accept all or some of these recommendations.”
During the press conference held about the recommendations by Environment Minster Eddie Joyce, Joyce referenced consulting with the landowners. Currently, the only group with a land claim for Muskrat Falls are the Innu Nation, although NCC has made claim for the land as well in their land claim negotiations, which are still ongoing.
Russell said his sense on that is their views and decision on recommendations should hold as much or more weight of any other group.
“Our concerns shouldn’t be lessened in any way shape or form and certainly not on that basis. These are the traditional lands as well of the Inuit of Nunatukavut and they are an area where we have asserted our rights, an area our people have used for centuries and continue to use. These issues are extremely important to us, the health of well-being of our people.”
The advisory committee was created following an agreement between area governments, at a marathon meeting at Confederation Building in St. John’s, on Oct. 25, 2016.
The meeting was intended to address ongoing protest action — calls for the project to be halted, given ongoing concerns around human health and cultural preservation.
There had been action in Ottawa, led by hunger strikers Billy Gauthier, Delilah Saunders and Jerry Kohlmeister; an occupation of the main work site in Labrador, led by the Labrador Land Protectors; and a campaign called Make Muskrat Right initiated by the Inuit government of Nunatsiavut (with a land claim reaching into Lake Melville, where the Churchill River empties).
The government of Nunatsiavut had sought additional research on the production of neurotoxin methylmercury as a result of the dam’s creation, and the potential human health effects downstream, independent of the provincial government and Crown corporation leading the project. The results led to greater concerns within the community.
- With files from Ashley Fitzpatrick