Nunatsiaq News
NEWS: Nunavut December 01, 2006 - 12:48 pm

Quebec ignores Sanikiluaq on hydro

“We told them what we know. They didn’t really listen to what we said.”

NUNATSIAQ NEWS

JANE GEORGE AND JOHN THOMPSON

The Quebec government’s approval last Friday of an enormous hydro-electric project doesn’t bode well for residents of nearby Sanikiluaq, warns Hudson Bay MLA Peter Kattuk.

”It’s not looking good for Sanikiluarmuit, environment-wise,” he said in an interview on Tuesday.

The proposed Eastmain-Rupert hydro project would divert the flow of two rivers, increasing the amount of fresh water that pours into the Hudson and James bays.

It would be the largest electricity project in Quebec since the 1970s. But Inuit who live in Sanikiluaq on the nearby Belcher Islands warn the project could scare away marine life, and end traditional hunting and gathering still practiced today.

Last Friday, Quebec said yes to the Hydro-Quebec mega-project, which is properly known as the “Eastmain-1A/Rupert Diversion/La Sarcelle project.”

“This decision represents a step forward for an energy project that is essential for Quebec in terms of supply security, industrial development and job creation in local communities,” said Pierre Corbeil, Quebec minister of wildlife and natural resources.

On Nov. 30, after the Nunatsiaq News deadline, the huge hydroelectric project was to receive similar federal approval, based on the federal review committee’s report.

Quebec’s decision was based on a report written by a Quebec-Cree review committee, which found the project is “environmentally and socially acceptable.”

But that committee’s 400-page report makes only passing reference to Inuit concerns, which were presented during a joint hearing of the federal and provincial review committees held in Montreal last May.

Under the banner of the Nunavut Hudson Bay Inter-Agency Working Group, or Nunavuummi Tasiujarjuamiuguqatigiit Katujiqatigiingit, Inuit warned at the meeting that altering the water flow would lead to die-offs of eider ducks, unhealthy sea cucumbers, hungry polar bears and sickly seals.

Kattuk, who attended the Montreal hearing, says he’s “very frustrated” it appears their concerns have been ignored.

“We told them what we know,” he said. “They didn’t really listen to what we said.”

The process now reminds Kattuk of another huge hydroelectric project, to dam Great Whale River, which was proposed over a decade ago and later shelved. At the time, Kattuk was mayor of Sanikiluaq, and Hydro-Quebec refused to consider offshore areas, such as the Belcher Islands and Hudson Bay, in their environment assessments.

This past Tuesday members of the working group met via conference call to decide what they could do to lobby the federal government to put the brakes on the project.

If the project does move ahead, Kattuk said he worries the altered water flows could mean the next generation of children in Sanikiluaq won’t have the opportunity to eat scallops, mussels, sea cucumber, sea urchins, starfish and seaweed, as he did.

Some sealife may be affected by rising water levels, he said, while others may not survive the increase in fresh water.

More fresh water could also make surrounding sea ice brittle, posing a threat to hunters, as well as polar bears, he said.

That’s because when salt water freezes, it can bend without breaking. But when fresh water freezes, it snaps.

There may also be more ice, because the increase of fresh water flowing into the Hudson Bay means the water freezes more quickly.

The review committee’s report does predict the project will flood traditional Cree traplines and release mercury into the environment. But despite this, the report also predicts wildlife will adapt, fish will thrive, people will adjust their diets, and the project will demonstrate the “age-old Cree capacity” to take on risks and change.

Overall the project will be “a breath of fresh air” to the region, the report says, bringing in jobs and challenging Cree to embrace modern life: “some will adapt to it by turning their backs to it, but it will transform the world around them anyway.”

The project meets Quebec’s own 10-year energy strategy to expand its hydroelectric and wind-generated electricity projects and to increase its power exports, the committee says.

Hydro-Québec must still meet 97 conditions for its provincial authorization, which include the establishment of a joint-consultation process with affected Cree communities after the project is finished in 2011.

The project includes new dams, reservoirs, a spillway, dikes, powerhouses, generating stations, power lines, and other structures. When completed, it will produce 880 megawatts of electricity – enough to power more than 500,000 homes.

The project’s total cost is more than $4 billion. It will create the equivalent of 27,000 jobs during construction, including 1,052 in the Cree communities.
The Rupert diversion will be completed by 2009, and the Eastmain-1A and La Sarcelle power stations will be operational in 2011.

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