The proposed Lower Churchill hydro project will be discussed at Federal Court in Ottawa today, as a legal case launched before the project was released from environmental assessment is heard.
The case began with a complaint from Grand Riverkeeper Labrador, the Sierra Club of Canada and the NunatuKavut Community Council, the latter representing Métis in Central and Southern Labrador.
The groups have stated they feel government was not legally in a position to release the heart of the hydro project — the dams at Muskrat Falls and Gull Island — from further environmental assessment, as was done on March 15, 2012.
In their Notice of Application, filed in December 2011, they claimed the Government of Canada and specifically the joint provincial-federal environmental review panel working on behalf of the Canada Environmental Assessment Agency had failed "to assess or incorrectly or unreasonably assessed" several key points relating to the project.
Specifically, say the claimants, potential cumulative effects of the dam projects were not considered alongside other project elements, including transmission lines and the Labrador Island Link. These project pieces are subject to their own environmental reviews.
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The groups have also stated alternatives were not properly explored before the environmental review panel released the project.
This morning, the NunatuKavut Community Council issued a news release asking no Federal permits and no loan guarantee be issued for the project at this point.
“We depend on bodies like the joint review panel, when government does not uphold its obligations to us as aboriginal peoples,” stated president of the NunatuKavut Community Council, Todd Russell.
“Many times our aboriginal group has to put its trust in an independent process like the joint review panel. We strongly feel that the (panel) did not do all of the work required to fulfill its mandate and we are the ones left to suffer because of it.”
Meanwhile, lawyers with Ecojustice have taken on both Grand Riverkeeper Labrador and the Sierra Club of Canada as clients for the case.
The Telegram spoke with Ecojustice lawyer Lara Tessaro in March, when she warned Nalcor Energy was taking a risk in moving the project forward while the issues relating to the environmental assessment process were still outstanding.
“If the Government of Canada issues a loan guarantee for the Lower Churchill project without the review panel completing its assessment, we believe that loan guarantee would be unlawful,” Tessaro stated in a notice of the case issued Friday.
“We want the panel to finish the job it was tasked to do, and until that happens, we believe the federal government does not have the legal right to support the project with permits or funding.”
"Given the significant environment harms that will be caused by the Lower Churchill project, we believe that the panel must go back and assess whether the project is even needed or justified — or whether Newfoundland and Labrador should pursue better, greener alternatives like tidal and wind energy instead," stated John Bennett, executive director of Sierra Club Canada.
The case is scheduled to be heard today through Wednesday and The Telegram will have more in tomorrow’s edition.