Hydro-Quebec understated project’s impact on Sanikiluaq, group says

Coalition concerned that river diversion will increase freshwater flow to Hudson Bay and James Bay


Hydro-Québec’s newest hydroelectric project will have a bigger impact than its Environmental Impact Statement says it will, according to a working group consisting of Nunavut Tunngavik Inc., the Qikiqtani Inuit Association, the Nunavut government and the Hamlet of Sanikiluaq.

The working group’s 100-page “Conformity Assessment” report condemns the “project-by-project approach” of Hydro-Québec’s EIS and says “major modifications” are needed to avoid compromising the welfare of future generations.

The NTK report says the EIS is incomplete because it takes a narrow look at the impacts of the proposed project, which involves the Rupert and Eastmain rivers. This project will alter the rivers’ flow, changing and increasing the amount of freshwater that pours into Hudson and James Bay.

“Clearly there is a need for a much better understanding of the cumulative effects of continuing to fully develop the hydroelectric potential of the region,” says the report.

“Our assessment was based on Inuit knowledge and observations, as well as widely accepted scientific methods,” said Lucassie Arragutainaq, in defence of the Nunavut Hudson Bay Inter-Agency Working Group, or Nunavuummi Tasiujarjuamiuguqatigiit Katujiqatigiingit, of which he is chair.

Robert Deslauriers of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency has said the concerns of the NTK group will be seriously considered during public hearings. The timing and location of these public hearings, scheduled for the fall, is supposed to be announced shortly.

Sanikiluaq is asking for a public hearing to take place on the island, but does not believe the current EIS is a satisfactory document on which to base public hearings. The NTK working group wants the EIS to be amended or contain a supplementary document and to contain a long-term plan for monitoring the watershed region.

However, developments in Quebec don’t have to look at impacts outside the region in their environmental impact statements, according to Robert Joly, from the northern industrial projects section within Quebec’s environment department. Joly said an environmental impact statement simply has to consider the “fundamental issues” at stake.

Sanikiluaq’s battle is just beginning because it is likely to face several other Hydro-Québec projects in the near future. Hydroelectric development was written into recent economic agreements between the province of Quebec and Northern Quebec Inuit and James Bay Cree.

One such deal is the Paix des Braves agreement signed between the James Bay Cree and Quebec in November 2001. The other deal is the Sanarrutik economic and community partnership agreement between Makivik Corporation, the Kativik Regional Government and Quebec, which was signed in April 2002.

This agreement states its purpose is to “accelerate hydroelectric, mining and tourism potential in Nunavik.”

After these agreements were signed, Sanikiluaq asked for the GN’s help. The GN and Sanikiluaq later agreed to prepare annual work plans and a budget to ensure the community’s voice would be heard and the NTK working group was struck.

Miriam Fleming, secretary of the NTK working group, says the organization , remains optimistic that Sanikiluaq’s concerns can be addressed during the environmental review process.

“I don’t think we can give up,” Fleming said. “Our mayor said recently it’s been 30 years that we’ve been trying to have our concerns heard on this matter – and what we’re said in this assessment, is that they go beyond one isolated community.”

In the early 1990s, Sanikiluaq opposed the damming of the Great Whale River for a massive hydroelectric project because of concerns over the negative effect on water currents, ice and marine life around the Belcher Islands.

It produced “Voices from the Bay,” a compilation of traditional ecological knowledge of Inuit and Cree in the Hudson Bay region. This book, co-edited by Arragutainaq, Zach Novalinga and Miriam Fleming, now the NTK secretary, began as a response to the proposed Great Whale project.

A new version of this book, called “People and Environmental Change in the Hudson Bay Region: Beginning the Next Step”, is now in the works. Co-funded by ARCTICNET and the Aboriginal Issues Press, it will include perspectives on environmental change and the impact of environmental change in the Hudson Bay region.

Elders, scientists, health professionals, youth, hunters and trappers, educators and leaders are being invited to write on the impact of changes in environmental events, such as freeze-up, break-up, flora, fauna, land forms, freshwater flow, and water, snow and ice conditions on Inuit lifestyles.

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