Environment featured Racism

Labrador Riverkeeper visits Nova Scotia to raise alarm about Muskrat Falls

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – Hydroelectric power set to flow from Muskrat Falls in Labrador to Nova Scotia through the Maritime Link sometime in 2018 is supposed to be clean, green and a good thing all around.

Well, it isn’t.

Riverkeepers rally in (on) Goose Bay, Labrador, last winter. Photo Facebook

Roberta Benefiel, founding director of  Grand Riverkeeper, Labrador, is visiting Nova Scotia to remind us that for the people who live there Muskrat Falls is an environmental disaster that will poison traditional food sources and flood indigenous lands.

Grand Riverkeeper, Labrador has close ties with the Indigenous land protectors who have been front and centre in much of the Muskrat Falls resistance over the last decade or so.

“The Muskrat Falls project needs to be shut down. “You can’t make Muskrat Falls right anymore,” Benefiel tells the Nova Scotia Advocate over the phone while parked along the highway somewhere in New Brunswick.

Nova Scotians need to recognize that through the Maritime Link and the province’s partnership with Newfoundland and Labrador they are complicit in the environmental damage brought upon indigenous peoples and settlers who live in this remote part of Canada, she says.

“There may not be that many of us, but people do live here. We need to put a face to these people,” says Benefiel.

Independent researchers from Harvard University, Memorial University in St. John’s, and the University of Manitoba raised the alarm about the accumulation of methylmercury downstream from the Muskrat Falls development  several years ago.

The new research establishes that some residents who lead traditional lifestyle may experience an increase in methylmercury exposure of up to 1500% following reservoir flooding.  And almost half the community will exceed the Health Canada guideline for methylmercury exposure.

Methylmercury is a dangerous poison that can cause neurological impairment in developing brains, particularly in cognitive thinking, attention, and memory.

Protests, hunger strikes, the arrest of journalist Justin Brake, and an occupation by land defenders briefly brought the issue to the national news. However, news media mostly stopped paying attention after the province and Nalcor, the Crown corporation in charge of the project,  promised to address the issues.

Nothing was written down, and most of those commitments proved to be empty promises, says Benefiel.

One promise, to drop water levels after a spring flooding deemed necessary to protect infrastructure, was broken after it became apparent that it would result in caving river banks.

Gretchen Fitzgerald, National Program Director of Sierra Club Canada Foundation, is organizing the Nova Scotia leg of Benefiel’s tour, which also includes stops in New York and several New England states.

For Fitzgerald, who has been opposed to the project from its inception, the timing is right to once again remind Nova Scotians of what is transpiring in Labrador.

“First of all, the depth of the mercury poisoning that will occur, and its effects on the Nunatsiavut people and others, are now fully understood,” Fitzgerald says. “These days we talk a lot about reconciliation, and clearly this is not a path that will lead us there.”

As well, Fitzgerald believes that Nova Scotians willing to look the other way because of Muskrat Falls supposed role in fighting climate change no longer can justify that approach. Just look at Nova Scotia’s efforts to negotiate continued use of coal with the Feds, and its active support of the Donkin coal mine, she says.

In the past the Ecology Action Centre has been supportive of giving Muskrat Falls the benefit of the doubt.

“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,” said Stephen Thomas, Energy Campaign Coordinator at the EAC in a story we did a year ago.   

When we asked Thomas yesterday if this EAC position had changed, he replied that the EAC is looking into the matter but unable to speak on the record with the Nova Scotia Advocate at this time.

Roberta Benefiel will speak in Halifax tonight, Wednesday November 15, at 7 PM at Room 204, Weldon Law Building, Dalhousie University, 6061 University Ave., Halifax.

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