“The questions I raised were never answered,” says Donald Steele, a week following his presentation to the independent review panel.

Steele spoke at a recent general hearing for the Lower Churchill project in St. John’s, as a representative of the Natural History Society of Newfoundland and Labrador.

A Professor Emeritus of Biology at Memorial University, he has reviewed a number of environmental assessments in this province, including the initial assessment of the Lower Churchill project in the 1980s, but Steele says he’s never seen one quite like this.

“To me, this is not an environmental assessment. This is an economic assessment, which should be done separately.” —Donald Steele

“We did argue that assessment no. 1 was inadequate and that a new environmental assessment should be done. However, we did not expect to receive this — what I call a bloated assessment, of I don’t know how many pages.”

In a response to TheIndependent.ca, Nalcor states, “The Environmental Assessment process requires many studies on a variety of different topics. The Environmental Impact Statement is a substantial document, and we are focused on completing a thorough environmental assessment.”

Steele has a copy of all the material on DVD, but admits it’s too overwhelming for even him to grasp and argues that it lacks a proper index needed in order to easily find information. He’d like to know, “who reviews and supervises the component’s studies to ensure they are free of irrelevant material — project descriptions, duplications, lists of personnel — and that they are precise, integrated and cross-referenced?”

Environmental or economic assessment?

“To me, this is not an environmental assessment,” Steele says. “This is an economic assessment, which should be done separately. The idea of mixing the two and giving the value of what they’re going to do with Hollyrood — has nothing to do with the environmental assessment of the Lower Churchill.”

In a response to TheIndependent.ca, Nalcor states, “Under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, “environment” includes biophysical, social, cultural, and economic aspects. Our material covers all of these topics in accordance with applicable legislation, regulations, and the EIS guidelines.”

Steele also questioned the total cost of the two assessments and the associated hearings, along with “who is paying for it all?” So far Nalcor has responded, “All costs for the assessment are covered by Nalcor.”

Public hearings end April 15 in Happy Valley-Goose Bay. Click here to view all presentations and responses shared so far.