Monday, 31 October 2016

METHYLMERCURY PROTESTS: WAS ANYTHING GAINED?

If you are one of the people going gaga over the deal with the aboriginal people of Labrador over methylmercury, you might want to think about what you are cheering for.

The issue is important – it’s just that the cost of even a minimal solution will finish off a project already effectively bankrupt.

There are other lessons that emerged from the protest and its aftermath that the public might want to note, too.

First, if the 2041 Group had occupied Nalcor Offices four years ago, and risked going to jail - as did some aboriginal people – the North Spur might have gotten independent review. The fake Oversight Committee would have been shut down, too and replaced with one both credible and honest. Only because the Inuit were unafraid to face down authority is everyone going kissy face.

Second, it is far from clear that the Native people made any gains from the protest. That it resulted in the reluctant promise of an “Expert Advisory Committee”, Government’s best manifestation of foot-dragging, scepticism points to a solution having all the markings of a group snookered.

It should be noted that the Innu leadership – distinct from some individual Innu like Bart Jack Sr. - did not support the protest. Innu leader Anastasia Qupee was unequivocal in the public media about their position. This is a separate story, of course. But the people on the Island ought to know, as they do in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, that key Innu families did not protest – choosing instead the big bucks coming from a plethora of joint venture contracts connected with the megaproject.

If the aboriginal people gained anything at all, the “fat-cats” among the Innu should not be permitted to claim any victory (however doubtful) won by others.

Third, the Nunatsiavut and Nunatukavut leadership sent a message to the Island. It said two things: traditional lands and waters will not be used as a toilet for industrially generated pollution. The singularity of their methylmercury agenda implicitly states: cost overruns, management oversight, the egregious rate per KWh, quality assurance, and others, are “Island” issues – the aboriginal groups are not fighting our battles for us.  

That said, if the settlement with the aboriginal peoples is not just a ruse, as noted the methylmercury issue will not be cheap. Estimates from engineers for tree and soil removal are already coming in to this blogger - at between $100-500 million depending on the reservoir area to be cleared. Indeed, if it had been considered prior to sanction the idea would have been declared “nutty”.

Jump for joy about the new rapprochement if you please but be ready for even higher power bills than suggested by the 21.4 cents per KWh rate about which Stan Marshall has already warned. This is the reason I suggested that Muskrat – already $4 billion over budget - should be put "On Ice" pending review. The Blog Post last week stated: 

“The interregnum will afford a full review of the methylmercury issue and give the public an opportunity…to examine its economic consequences…. Additional clear cutting and soil removal in the reservoir area can only add to an already…burdensome cost. The Government’s way of dealing…seems at best incremental. The public can have no confidence the Province can afford to have this project completed.”

While Nalcor knows the sums – they aren’t telling. Nalcor insists it is too late to stop the project but it places no ceiling on project costs. Indeed, on what basis, except bald proof, would we believe them anyway? 

As for the Government, it is so weak it can only deal with this week’s political issue. It can’t even assess the near-term human and the economic costs of the project.

However one does the Muskrat math, it adds up to a cauldron of despair. A few hundred million dollars may have to be added for methylmercury remediation, and another large amount for the unsettled Astaldi claim. Shake in the decision of the Quebec Superior Court which ended the idea of a Water Management Agreement – and Muskrat’s claim to 824 MW of coordinated power production. Throw in a questionably stable North Spur. And don’t forget that the independent Liberty Group says you still need back-up power because outages on the LIL may be lengthy. A renovated Holyrood won’t come for free. And while your calculator is handy remember that those turbines, made in China, received none of the quality oversight  “real” managers insist is given major components. Are you catching my drift?

But, like so many other problems with this project, methylmercury is relevant not just because of its implications for human health or that it represents huge additional costs to ratepayers. It magnifies Nalcor’s incompetence.  

The issue did not appear out of nowhere four years after project sanction. On the contrary – it is top on the agenda now only due to the protests, Nalcor having deliberately ignored all the warnings of the Joint Environmental Review Panel. While Nalcor left the impression it had signed on to the requirement for assessment, review and mitigation, it failed to follow through –ostensibly hoping that it wouldn’t get caught.

When a management gap this massive occurs, why are there no repercussions? When additional costs, possibly hundreds of millions of dollars, can be directly tied to management inaction, why are senior managers immune? Why do they get to keep their jobs? Why should rate payers get screwed by the absence of processes that were supposed to start long before project sanction?

It is not just the Premier, or the neophytes Coady and Trimper who are deficient, Stan Marshall is not exactly proving himself a paragon of courage. The fortissimo Maestro clearly seems to favour the wind section!

Perhaps it is time Islanders took a page out of the Nunatsiavut book. The Government’s promise to “open the books” on Muskrat will occur only if ratepayers are prepared to risk going to jail. Likely, such an event won’t occur until the power bills arrive.


Still, jail might be worth it anyway – at least we would get away from the madness! 

12 comments:

  1. Of course you are spot on. I notice an increasing concern and fear of where our power bills are headed, and on my walk a rounds I see a lot installations of mini-split heatpumps, not good for Muskrat power sales, and people are taking measures to deal with it on an individual level.
    As to the many cost increases for Muskrat yet to come, add for Compliance to meet North American standards before we can connect to Nova Scotia, and also for a much beefed up Nfld Hydro, as Liberty says the complexity of this DC system along with the AC means essentially a NEW Nfld Hydro, more competent and more costly. There seems no end in sight to cost overruns yet to come.
    I guess, locally, the greatest outrage came from some of the Nalcor AGM meetings where there was anger at Ed Martin. The public was not tuned in as to where this was headed as to the degree of incompetence and the outrageous rates we were heated for. If only Guoup 2041 led protests here as you suggest. But it seems it is only the average and low income people who will most suffer most.But then business will follow as to the fallout. Perhaps, as you say, the protests will only be after the bills arrive.

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  3. "Make Muskrat Right" is the battle cry. "Don't poison me" is the caption on circulating photos of Labrador children. The health risks are real and nothing about this "boondoggle" (massive fraud) is over sensationalized in the least. The call for more feet on the ground in these and future protests is well warranted. Given our current situation, it seems that nothing else short of outright assassination/s, (and NO, Police, I'm not condoning that concept whatsoever), will even get attention from the corrupt ones that control our tax money.

    Systemic change is the ONLY answer for Newfoundland and Labrador.

    In my opinion, based on 50+ years of observation of, and personal devastation at the hands of, corrupt (red and blue) NL government(s), the blame game is simply one more layer of political fraud. The fact is they're all on the same side and our people need to immediately realize this fact.

    Sure they spew meaningless nonsense back and forth puclicly, so they can periodically $lide into the higher powered chair$$, but they're all, very comfortably seated in offices with high pay and absurdly rich pensions.

    They take turns pushing similar, (often identical), agendas and neither party (out of two and one eigth parties), ever truly attempts to do what the people request or demand... and they never have.

    To expect anything different from either "party", is to ignore 66 years of our history.

    Given that each of our two competing parties, (NDP doesn't truly compete), have chosen to blatantly ignore the will of the people by oppressing public opinion and forging ahead on actions that will very likely poison and/or drown our citizens.... is there really ANY doubt left in 2016?

    It's well worth repeating... "all together now" ...

    "Systemic change is the ONLY answer for Newfoundland and Labrador" !!

    Peter Austin, Fellow victim and taxpayer.

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  4. Des I fear that your concern that the Labrador groups were snookered on the Muskrat mercury issue is correct. I saw no timeline for the science review. Dwight Ball's assertion that NL retains the final decision is disturbing. He may say thanks but no thanks we can't afford much beyond a modest increase in biomass removal.

    In the end partial flooding starts now despite the protest and no firm guarantee of action or increased public involvement.

    The protest may in the long term mark a significant turning point for the Labrador people working together for their collective interest. For the issue at hand, Muskrat Falls, I fear that the secrecy and incompetence will continue.

    To Jim Learning whose fearless leadership sparked the uprising and the hunger strike, may your tribe increase.

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  5. Of course, Peter Austin, I suggest reasonable size protests are sufficient. Those guys in power fear reasonable size protests, but do not fear small protests. There is a tipping point. And, so far, we on the island are waiting for others to take the risk of being jailed. Already, they are in lock down mode for the CON Building. Of course Jim Learning went on hunger strike after he was jailed, and there were few protesters then. The Inuit artist, Billie, did not need to go to jail to make his point. A lack of safe food means starvation for many in the long run in Labrador, so he felt it was just as well to starve now.
    Here on the island , the issue will be affordable heat, and the ballooning debt. A choice between heat and food for many. If not starvation, then malnutrition or pneumonia. The end result is little different from those in Labrador. But those in Labrador have suffered enough. We on the island need some backbone, and learn from those brave souls further north. Group 2041 were but 5 souls, and neither very brave nor very poor. But at least they raised their head for a while. It was too little. But it is not too late. STOP MUSKRAT NOW! Next year will indeed be too late.

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    1. They were brave enough, given what Danny and his PC henchmen said and did about any disssenters.

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  6. There will not be protesting when the bills double/triple/etc., just mass exodus. Our grandchildren need not worry about paying for it because they won't be here.

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  7. "Snookered" implies a clever defensive play, in accordance with the rules. Our fellow citizens from Labrador were outright "hustled", (imo).

    Perhaps a professional level assessment of the agreement (by Des and/or associates) may differ from my opinion, and that's largely why I submit this comment. However here's how I see it.

    Under the so-called agreement that came out of that twleve hour meeting, (psychological torture session?), the Labradorians seem to be tasked with scrutinizing the reports, (that Ball provided), for reasons to not flood, (within days), by way of reviewing the potential for ice (not) damaging the existing structure/s .... thereby (apparently) totally ignoring the science, and the public warnings by world class professionals, that indicate that methyl mercury poisoning will occur if they flood. ... as I understand it, the aboriginal leaders are "not allowed" to argue poisoning... they're only "allowed" to find fault in the ice damage reports, (that Ball/Nalcor provided).

    If that doesn't carry the REEK of an unconscionable agreement, I don't know what does. Therein lies the stench that everyone smells from that meeting, but that many can't quite discern. I hope someone discerns it in time, before people die.

    Here's why... the risk from poison, (longer term but very real, and highly likely), the risk of North Spur failure and massive flooding, (some say a virtual certainty), the risk of violent clash with Police, (came close already, tensions are mounting, and a well known RCMP Officer who helped negotiate a peaceful resolution has since passed on, (died suddenly, not sure of the reason/s), so we're not sure who will replace that gentleman or what their motives and/or mode of operation will be), the risk of vigilante actions against government, (sadly, this has been discussed and thus far, held down), and the risk of death from hunger strike/s, (it was getting closer as each day passed, has now ceased, but is almost certain to rise again if/as the flooding begins).
    Peter Austin

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  8. Group 2041 did some (very) admirable work. They put the issues squarely on the table and challenged the flawed logic and assumptions, (which we now find actually border on outright fraud). In typical NL fashion the public agreed, (sort of, here and there), but they (we) didn't rise up and jump on board to show sufficient support to bring about change.

    The time is upon us (all) now to join forces.

    Forces may include: the expertise and resources in Uncle Gnarley's circle of friends as shown on this blog, (intelligence, experience, communicative skills, experience in legal matters and in government operations), the current passion and relentless determination of hundreds of demonstrators both in Labrador and on the island, the many thousands of like-minded citizens expressing support in the various online groups, and the many more thousands of public workers who remain silent (thus far, due to pressures or discomfort pertaining to employment, family, friends, business, complacency, embarrassment etc.)

    In addition we have the expressed support of various groups and many more individuals from inside and outside our province, and indeed from outside Canada. The expressed concern and support, against what the proponents of MF have done and are intending to do to our province and citizens, now run in the many hundreds of thousands of people, without exageration. We ARE approaching the tipping point.

    To boot, we have Mr. Bernard Coffey and Mr. Dennis Browne in key positions.

    We also have two (corrupted) political parties, that are currently in a state of near panic, as the public is hugely annoyed and distrustful of both, and of any "leader" they may choose to bring forward, (if there's even one in there somewhere). BTW it takes mere seconds to change the Resign posters, and hundreds await the opportunity to repost with a new face and name. By no stretch is this shit goin' away folks!!

    If not now, when? ... I for one hereby vounteer (between protests and further strategy meetings) to assist in the joining of those forces. Who else is "on board"??

    Peter Austin

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  9. The Indian protests in Dakota, despite 400 arrests, they are settling in to remain all winter. They oppose the oil pipeline that is a risk t the river. CNN just reported that support protesters just shut down Grand Central Station in New York City.Meanwhile Stan Marshall assures us that one ever suffers from mercury poisoning.Right!Just add some to your tea.Does Science back up Marshall......I suppose if you do not eat the fish and wildlife you are ok.
    Times... they are a changin....Stan

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  10. The Telegram question: are looking at ways to reduce energy consumption as winter approaches; Result : 80 percent says yes.
    A year ago Ashley Fitzgerald of the Telegram asked Ed Martin if Nalcor had looked at energy conservation, Martin said that in Nfld , that is a hard sell.
    Here`s a question; if you have electric heat and you could win a free (both supply and install) of a heat pump that could save you 65 percent on your winter heating, express your interest here on the Uncle Gnarley site. This is strictly for expression of interest at this time.

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  11. I would like to suggest that you stick with the most recommended Forex broker: eToro.

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