The auditorium at Hotel North Two in Happy-Valley Goose Bay was at full capacity last night as environmental assessment hearings for the proposed Lower Churchill hydroelectric project began.
Roberta Frampton Benefiel, vice-president of Grand RiverKeeper Labrador Inc., was seated in the crowd. An advocate for the environmental protection of the Churchill River, she was pleased with the questions the panel put to the proponent, Nalcor, during the session.
“All of the questions are exactly the questions we’ve been asking,” Benefiel said.
The right questions were asked, but she’s not certain any of them received a straight response.
“Everything was quite skirted around, no direct answers. As far as I can see, Nalcor has an agenda that’s set out. They have been rehearsed for however long, over and over again. Nalcor isn’t letting anything else in.”
Nalcor, the provincial government crown corporation, has yet to accept requests for an interview with TheIndependent.ca.
“Everything was quite skirted around, no direct answers.” —Roberta Benefiel
Judging from what she heard, Benefiel says she’s realized there are a lot more people in Happy-Valley Goose Bay who see the project in the same light as Grand RiverKeeper.
“This project is not for Labrador. From what we heard from every single one who stood up, they’re concerned that every impact of this river flooding is going to be significant.
“To dam up the seventh largest river in Canada, and to expect that nothing you’ve done is going to significantly impact anything, is ludicrous. Ordinary citizens felt the same way. I was amazed.”
Benefiel says if it were ten years ago she wouldn’t expect such a turnout or response from the town of Happy-Valley Goose Bay. She sees the views of Labradorians changing.
“I honestly see the light dawning. I feel that the Labrador people are finally realizing that this idea of a colonial offshore government taking every resource in Labrador because they can — because we only have 26,000 souls up here that can vote — is wrong. They pit that against us. I think, finally, Labrador is beginning to say: ‘enough’.”
Grand RiverKeeper, a non-profit organization whose mandate is to preserve and protect the water quality and the ecological integrity of the Grand (Churchill) River, will be presenting at tonight’s hearing and again on Saturday in Goose Bay.
“We understood at one point that the review panel would like to paddle [on] the Churchill River,” Benefiel said.
“What we’re going to do tonight is introduce them to our river from our perspective with a video, sitting in the seat of a canoe.”
“To dam up the seventh largest river in Canada, and to expect that nothing you’ve done is going to significantly impact anything, is ludicrous.” —Roberta Benefiel
Public sessions are set to tour the province through to April 15 — open to all who wish to hear and/or have their say on the mega hydroelectric project and its potential impacts.
Nalcor’s proposed transmission link involves the construction of an approximately 1100-kilometre long transmission line from Labrador to the island of Newfoundland. The crown corporation’s plans also involve the development of two hydroelectric generation facilities, including construction of dams and reservoirs on the lower Churchill River in central Labrador. The reservoir flooding required for the project is 126 sq. km.
See hearing transcripts here