APTN National News
The blockade at the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project in Labrador is back despite a court injunction obtained by Nalcor Energy Sunday prohibiting people there from blocking the construction site entrance.
“This injunction is toothless, it will never stand up,” said Inuit Elder Jim Learning. “It’s a scare tactic.”
Wednesday night a large crowd gathered outside the gates at the entrance to the site where land protectors been camped out since last week.They blocked worker from leaving the site after their shift – and prevented the next group from entering.
Video courtesy The Independent
Nalcor, the provincial agency responsible for the project, has cancelled workers’ shifts for the day.
This followed news that the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador has ordered Nalcor to clear more forest cover from the reservoir.
“I’ve been calling it the ‘clearing as much as possible’ scenario,” said Environment Minister Perry Trimper.
But the order doesn’t include topsoil, which contains organic material that turns into methylmercury, a naturally occurring toxin when disturbed. For several months, Inuit leaders have pushed the government to remove both trees and topsoil.With the initial flooding set to begin by the end of the month, time is running short for any more clearing in that first flood zone, which covers 11 square kilometres.
For several months, Inuit leaders have pushed the government to remove both trees and topsoil.With the initial flooding set to begin by the end of the month, time is running short for any more clearing in that first flood zone, which covers 11 square kilometres.
“Nalcor has been indicating they have no other choice other than to create this flood to protect their investment. They’ve got $7 billion spent on infrastructure now and they are asserting that they need to do this flood,” said Trimper.
The reaction to the provincial announcement from opponents to the project was swift.
On Wednesday, Billy Gauthier, an Inuk artist on a hunger strike at Muskrat Falls, had mixed emotions.
“I’m frustrated. But there’s no doubt I’m also pretty amped up right now,” said Gauthier. “I’ve been told before to pull back my emotions a bit, but I’m a human being and my people are going to be poisoned.”
Trimper downplayed concerns over the impacts methylmercury will have on human health.
“I spoke with Billy Gauthier about his last meal of salmon he had,” said Trimper. “He should never have to worry about the effects of methylmercury from this project on salmon.”
Gauthier disputed that, saying in fact, he hadn’t heard from Trimper. Others also dismissed the province’s announcement as spin in the face of growing opposition.
“We’re getting outright lies,” said Learning. “Nothing has changed. Clearly, it was a tactic to neutralize us at the gates, a deflection that didn’t work.”
Trimper acknowledged that people weren’t happy with the order to only remove more forest cover. But he said the initial flooding wold allow scientists the opportunity to study the impacts of methylmercury. The remaining three-quarters of the reservoir won’t be flooded for two to three years.
Inuit leaders are looking for prevention rather than compensation and mitigation after the fact.
“Once flooding occurs, it will be too late to mitigate the methylmercury impacts on the downstream environment that the authorization currently prohibits,” wrote Nunatsiavut President Johannes Lampe in a letter on Monday to the Prime Minister.
Yvonne Jones, Labrador’s Liberal MP and parliamentary secretary to the minister of Indigenous Affairs sent a request to Fisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc requesting a review of all permits issued to Nalcore for the project. That request was denied.