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Monday 31 October 2016


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!