Environment featured

Make Muskrat Right or Make Muskrat Go Away? NS environmentalists grapple with Muskrat Falls

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – The Ecology Action Centre (EAC), an environmental organization in Nova Scotia, has spoken out in support of residents of local communities around Lake Melville who are protesting potential future methylmercury poisoning caused by the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric development.

However, unlike the Sierra Club Atlantic, it is not calling for the cancellation of the mega project.

Innu and Inuit want the Muskrat Falls reservoir cleared of trees and all topsoil removed prior to any flooding to prevent mercury levels in fish and seals to rise.  Fish and seals are the main food source of many residents around Lake Melville.

Yesterday the Newfoundland and Labrador government announced that it will revisit the issue. This happened only after Labradorians occupied parts of the Muskrat Falls work site and three land defenders started a hunger strike.

Ecology Action Centre: Make Muskrat Right

“With everything that’s going on with the Muskrat Falls project, there is an opportunity to make Muskrat Falls right,” says Stephen Thomas, the new Energy Campaign Coordinator at the EAC.

Muskrat Falls construction site. Photo Facebook

“The provincial government of Newfoundland and Labrador, Nalcor, and to an extent politicians in Nova Scotia are given an opportunity to make it right, to listen to the Nunatsiavut Government, the NunatuKavut Community Council, the Innu Nation and communities in Labrador,” says Thomas.

Thomas points to the four demands of the Nunatsiavut government as stated in their petition on the Make Muskrat Right website as a way to address these concerns.

The recommendations include full clearing of the reservoir area, further mitigation studies, utilization of Inuit knowledge, and joint decision-making authority for aboriginal people. Two of the recommendations are based on recommendations by the Environmental Assessment panel for the project.

Through the years the EAC has been supportive of the arrangement that will see part of the electricity generated at Muskrat Falls be exported via the Maritime Link.

“It is clear that it has been a tough issue for the EAC and for Nova Scotia, to balance the need to get off coal-fired electricity with the need to lessen our impact”, says Thomas.

But the lack of action in Nova Scotia on the renewable energy front is disappointing, he adds.

“The Muskrat Falls project provides an opportunity to introduce all kinds of very good policies here in Nova Scotia in terms of phasing out coal-fired energy and strengthening and extending how we phase in renewable sources of energy,” says Thomas. “But we are not seeing that happening yet.”

Sierra Club, There are other and better solutions

“We came out against Muskrat Falls after we participated in the environmental assessment process,” says Gretchen Fitzgerald, director of the Sierra Club Atlantic chapter.

“We looked at what happens historically with these these mega-dam projects and the impact on communities downstream, methylmercury issues, rights issues which clearly weren’t addressed, the impact of flooding on the landscape and the damage that implies for wildlife  and habitat,” says Fitzgerald.

“We felt that there were other solutions to deal with climate change that wouldn’t involve such damage.”

Fitzgerald says she is disappointed how these issues have been ignored here for such a long time.

Labradorians and indigenous people have been raising alarms since at least 2014 about a variety of problems caused by the development Even the methylmercury issue has been pushed by the Nunatsiavut government since early 2016.

“it is kind of frustrating to me that it only received attention when people nearly started to kill themselves by starving themselves to death,” says Fitzgerald.

“We should be thinking more about conservation and local-sourced energy and that is not what these mega projects are about,” she says.

The Independent, a Newfoundland and Labrador online publication, has been providing extensive coverage of the indigenous resistance to Muskrat Falls.

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