Happy Valley-Goose Bay left out of Muskrat negotiations: Mayor

“We were essentially told we are on our own.”

During my tenure as mayor in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, the Muskrat Falls project has dominated the dialogue on nearly every committee. Council colleagues have grappled with many complex issues related to this project, including the impacts on the land fill, the increase in commercial traffic, the wear-and-tear on municipal roads such as Kelland Drive, the social issues and concerns, labour changes and impacts to business, the dramatic increase in housing cost, and the suspected contamination of Lake Melville.

Despite the numerous ways in which the Muskrat Falls project has impacted our municipality, and despite our ongoing concerns, to date, the municipal level of government has been left out of any negotiations or workshops regarding the clearing of the reservoir and the water monitoring program. 

Going further, while much of the public discussion has been about the potential physical health impacts based on the projected increase in methylmercury, I need to raise additional concerns with the proposed emergency plan in the event of a dam failure.

Based on our preliminary analysis a full dam breach would affect over 250 properties in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, and cause nearly $60,000,000 in real property damage. This would also flood 15 km of municipal roads; the town would lose its water, sewer, and electricity; road access to the Trans-Labrador Highway and the dock would be cut off; and all the cabins and farms on the Mud Lake road would flood, as would the entire community of Mud Lake.

The draft Nalcor Emergency Plan has been presented to the Council and, in the event of a dam breach, we have almost an hour and a half before the flood waters arrive. Mud Lake gets a few more minutes and North West River and Sheshatshiu have two hours.

 How have we gotten to this point where the dam is about to be completed and such vital questions about public health and safety remain unaddressed?

When our Environment and Emergency Preparedness Committee met with Nalcor to voice our concerns with numerous aspects of the document, we were essentially told we are on our own. Additionally, multiple soil experts have reached out to me with concerns over the integrity of the North Spur, and its potential instability. It is clear that we have to take safety concerns very seriously.

In August 2015, the premier acknowledged that there are indeed impacts from large industrial projects on our municipality, and support was put in place to assist the Town with the capacity it needed to analyze the impacts from this project.

Through a $250,000 capacity agreement (0.0022 percent of the estimated $11.4 billion project cost), the Town hired a full-time fire chief and a Town engineer, completed professional GIS analysis of the impacts of a dam breach, and responded to the Nalcor Emergency Plan in depth; but this may all be to no avail if our analysis and concerns are continually left unaddressed.

How have we gotten to this point where the dam is about to be completed and such vital questions about public health and safety remain unaddressed?

I plan to bring all of these points forward on Thursday at the Urban Municipalities Committee of Municipalities Newfoundland and Labrador, in hopes that future development by our Crown corporation will be more proactive and considerate of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians living adjacent to these projects. 

Jamie Snook is the Mayor of Happy Valley-Goose Bay, Labrador.

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