Randy Edmunds opposed to Muskrat Falls but says dam is inevitable

“The best safeguard to me personally is to not go ahead with the project. But there’s a reality there, and as much as I want or I wish, that the project isn’t going to be stopped.”

Torngat Mountains MHA Randy Edmunds says he’s still opposed Muskrat Falls over concerns around methylmercury contamination of country foods in Lake Melville and questions around the stability of the North Spur, but that he will not be joining grassroots protests aimed at halting the first phase of flooding, which Nalcor has said could begin as early as next weekend.

On Monday morning residents of Happy Valley-Goose Bay, Rigolet and other communities that could be negatively impacted by the hydro dam awoke to a statement from Edmunds, an Inuk from Makkovik, posted on his Facebook page.

“My feelings [in 2011] were just as strong as my feelings now, my concern then for the damage and poisoning of the river never waivered, the thought that the fish, seals, birds and every thing I grew up on would be at risk …..the way of life that I and people I represent being threatened is the most important issue that I have and will ever face,” he wrote.

“If it was up to me in the beginning of course the project would never have started…..if it was up to me today then the project would be shut down…..if crossing the floor (as some of you have asked) would stop this project then I would have done that …..if resigning from my position as MHA would stop the project then I would have done that as well!”

Edmunds went on to say that he continues to “lay this issue on the table each and every time I meet with the premier, the cabinet-ministers and all other provincial MHAs,” and then invited anyone who “can tell me a way to stop this project then come on with it!! Any government official or otherwise, that thinks I’m silent on this issue…..come on with your suggestions and plans. I’m here and you know where to find me.”

In an interview with The Independent Monday morning Edmunds said he has been hounded by people over his perceived silence on the matter, and that one person asked him how he can sleep at night with reservoir flooding potentially just days away.

He said the concerns being voiced by land and water protectors and protesters are “valid — and I share them,” but that he thinks it’s too late to stop the project.

“Four years ago I would have liked the same level of concern put forward,” he said. “As an opposition member then there was five or six of us who took the concerns to government, in the longest filibuster in [the province’s] history, including the premier. I didn’t want [the project] to go ahead. What we didn’t want was the way that it went ahead. And now that we formed the government in 2015 the project has gone two-thirds towards completion [and] it’s hard to turn it back. But as a government, the only thing we’re left to do now is manage it as best we can.”

Facebook photo.
Last month a poster campaign at Memorial University in St. John’s targeted Edmunds and other Liberal MHAs who some feel aren’t doing enough to protect the health and rights of people living downstream from Muskrat Falls. Facebook photo.

Asked if he thought people who stand to be affected by health risks associated with the dam might have been more vocal four years ago if they had the information they have now—including projections from a Harvard-led study that methylermcury will contaminate a traditional food source for Innu, Inuit and settlers who live in the Lake Melville region—Edmunds indicated the contradictory statements by Nalcor and the Lake Melville study have created confusion around whether people’s health will be put at risk to the extent the peer-reviewed study projects.

“Once you look at projects like a dam, there’s always a risk,” he said. “And if you look at the science that came out, there’s two interpretations of the data, and no one is saying that the data is wrong, but the politics comes into science when you got the two interpretations. I’m not a scientist, but it does make me wonder, and it does piss me off a bit, when you agree on data but there’s politics in science as well and we’re seeing two different interpretations.”

Edmunds further expressed his confusion in saying he “didn’t agree” with Nalcor’s statement during the environmental assessment process that there would be no measurable effects as a result of methylmercury beyond mouth of river. “I don’t think anybody agreed with it.”

He also said he has asked himself, “what if [methylmercury] levels don’t go to a point where it [exceeds] Health Canada guidelines? What if it don’t go there?

“Let’s just say it don’t go there — then was all this process fear-mongering, or just academic, I wonder?”

The methylmercury study first tested water in Lake Melville, which sits about 25 kilometres downstream from Muskrat Falls, and found that conditions in the estuary are such that methylmercury created by flooding the dam’s reservoir will enter the food chain more optimally than in other northern marine ecosystems that have been studied.

 I’m not a scientist, but it does make me wonder, and it does piss me off a bit, when you agree on data but there’s politics in science as well and we’re seeing two different interpretations. — Randy Edmunds, MHA

The second phase of the study, which evaluated the potential human health impacts of mercury contamination of country foods, projected that fully clearing the reservoir of trees, vegetation and topsoil would minimize the risk to Inuit of Nunatsiavut who harvest fish, seals and birds from the estuary.

Under a scenario where the reservoir was fully cleared and rapid decomposition of methylmercury occured, the study projected approximately 32 Nunatsiavut Inuit would be pushed above Health Canada’s guidelines for methylmercury exposure.

Under a scenario where the reservoir is partially cleared, the study projected as many as 200 Nunatsiavut Inuit would be pushed above those same health guidelines.

The study does not account for the Inuit of NunatuKavut, residents of Sheshatshiu Innu First Nation, or non-Aboriginal people, all together thousands of whom eat country foods harvested from Lake Melville, a Nunatsiavut conservation officer ecently told The Independent.

Edmunds said despite the confusion he is still concerned, “because there’s proof that flooding [reservoirs] causes methylmerucry.

“I share the concerns because I’m going to be living [in Happy Valley-Goose Bay] and eating the same fish, same birds, same seals, as everyone there,” he added.

The MHA also said he shares concerns over the integrity of the North Spur, which will comprise part of the dam but is situated on a river whose banks are made up primarily of sand.

“I’m not a scientist so I can’t answer but just the physical appearance of that location is enough to cause concern,” he said.

Edmunds said the situation at Muskrat Falls is “one of those things that you try and build in as much safeguard as you can,” and that “the best safeguard to me personally is to not go ahead with the project.

“But there’s a reality there,” he continued, “and as much as I want or I wish, that the project isn’t going to be stopped.”

A growing number of locals who are anxious and concerned about the imminent partial reservoir flooding believe differently, however, and are continuing peaceful protests at the Muskrat Falls construction site.

On two occasions last week a group of around 30 people walked on to the construction site to the North Spur and Spirit Mountain, a sacred Innu site where tens of thousands of ancient artifacts were discovered during the project’s early stages.

Later today, as part of a national Indigenous day of action against extractive industrial projects that infringe on Indigenous rights and sovereignty, land and water protectors and other concerned locals will walk on to the site again to “have special prayers for the river and the people,” according to an event poster.

 I  don’t have the luxury of being where people want me when they want me. But I do suffer the consequences when I’m not there. — Randy Edmunds, MHA

Edmunds said while he’s facing increasing scrutiny for not doing more to protect the health and safety of Inuit and others living downstream from the dam, he’s “in a very compromised position through the simple fact that the government that represents me, Nunatsiavut Government, has taken this position,” he said, referring to the Inuit government’s Make Muskrat Right campaign, which demands full reservoir clearing to minimize the impacts of methylmercury.

Asked if he thought joining the protests would have an impact on the movement to stop the project until all concerns are addressed, Edmunds said, “No. We all know that.

“I don’t have the luxury of being where people want me when they want me. But I do suffer the consequences when I’m not there,” he said, referring again to the criticism he is facing from constituents and residents of Upper Lake Melville.

“I don’t have to be everywhere, and I don’t have to be everything to everybody, because it’s impossible.”

Edmunds concluded by saying he’s glad to see discussions continuing between the province and Nunatsiavut Government over Nunatsiavut’s Make Muskrat Right demands.

“If this is the best we can do with what we got, you have to go and try and do the best you can.”

On Friday Nunasiavut President Johannes Lampe said at a rally against Muskrat Falls in St. John’s that he “want[s] to make clear that our position has not changed. The Nunatsiavut Government wants to see a fully clear-cut reservoir before flooding.”

He also said that “in order for us to be heard we have to ball our lungs out, and we have to say, ‘Make Muskrat right’.”

To date none of the three Indigenous leaders have joined the grassroots protests at Muskrat Falls, though elected officials from Nunatsiavut and NunatuKavut Community Council—which represents the Inuit of southern Labrador—have participated in the acts of peaceful civil disobedience.

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