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Churchill fails

Nova Scotia’s plans to us electricity generated by the Lower Churchill Falls hydro project is neither clean nor green.


A beaming Darrell Dexter told the Halifax Chamber of Commerce last week that the $6.2 billion mega-project to import power from the lower Churchill river in Labrador "truly is Atlantic Canada's CPR." The NS premier was referring to the completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1885. He might do well to remember the

Pacific scandal that got Sir John A. booted out of office for soliciting campaign bribes from the Montreal tycoon who got the CPR contract. There's no suggestion of any financial shenanigans with "Atlantic Canada's CPR," but it was jarring to see our jubilant, socialist premier in St. John's clasping hands with Emera CEO Chris Huskilson, who took home over $1.3 million last year in salary and bonuses. Huskilson is probably getting paid even more this year as Emera, parent company of Nova Scotia Power, continues to rake in record profits. If the lower Churchill power project does go ahead, the company can count on hefty government subsidies, higher power rates and, possibly, the chance to profit from exporting electricity to the United States.

The premier assured his Halifax business audience that the power from the lower Churchill would be "clean and green." Unfortunately, that's not true. The 550 metre-long, 29- to 32-metre-high Muskrat Falls dam would create a 60-kilometre-long reservoir, flooding an additional 36 square kilometres of wilderness, an area significantly bigger than the Halifax peninsula. The flooding and reservoir would destroy fish and wildlife habitat while producing carbon dioxide and methane emissions from submerged vegetation and trees. Rising levels of toxic methyl mercury would make fish unsafe to eat. (There are already restrictions on fish consumption because of the original Churchill Falls project which began operating in 1971.) Moreover, hundreds of square kilometres of wilderness would have to be cleared for transmission lines to take the power out of Labrador.

No wonder the Labrador Metis are opposed to the project, while the Inuit warn they won't sign on unless damming the lower Churchill provides long-term economic and social benefits with minimal environmental effects. The Nova Scotia media prefer to focus on the Innu, whose leaders have already struck a deal with Newfoundland, but still need to resolve a few outstanding issues with the feds. During a phone interview, grand chief Joseph Riche seemed confident that could be done soon. "Muskrat Falls has a significant religious significance for the Innu people, it's like a sanctuary," he says, adding that any deal would have to be ratified by the 2,100 Innu, otherwise the project will not go ahead.

Some of the Innu are far from happy. "We are here protesting against the damming of the river," Helen Andrew told me last week by phone as she stood with a small group of protesters by the side of the highway near Goose Bay. Andrew lives on the Innu reserve of Sheshatshiu about 50 kilometres from Muskrat Falls. She accuses Innu leaders of failing to consult with residents over their deal with Newfoundland. She also responds angrily when asked how she would answer those who argue that power from the lower Churchill should be considered clean and green because it could enable Newfoundland and Nova Scotia to burn less coal.

"No, I don't think it's clean and green. No, because it would destroy a lot of things here for us," she says. "The fish would be no good for eating and also a lot of things would change, like the caribou migration because they cross this river." When asked what she would say to the Nova Scotia government, Andrew is blunt. "Well, my message to the Nova Scotia government is our leaders here, the Innu leaders do not fully represent us," she says. "They haven't met with us and I don't think they want to meet with us, so we are here protesting and we will keep protesting to show there are a lot of Innu people who do not agree with the dam."


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