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Getting answers

Additional information was made available throughout the day Wednesday on the marathon leaders’ meeting held on Muskrat Falls and related methylmercury concerns.

Environment Minister Perry Trimper

The meeting began Tuesday afternoon at Confederation Building and wrapped in the early hours of the following morning

Indigenous leaders from Labrador and provincial government representatives announced a potential path forward, with a first step involving independent review by the Innu Nation, Nunatsiavut Government and NunatuKavut Community Council — using their own experts — of documents said to support Nalcor Energy claims of the need to partially flood the Muskrat Falls reservoir before the winter.

More information was revealed in interviews with provincial Minister of Environment and Climate Change Perry Trimper, NunatuKavut Community Council president Todd Russell and Dr. Trevor Bell, coauthor on the study on the Lake Melville methylmercury study.

Q : Was Nalcor Energy represented in the leaders’ meeting?

A: No. Trimper said the main room was the premier and three indigenous leaders, ministers (Trimper said he and Coady were there with Ball) and support staff. Two of the indigenous groups had elders present with their contingent. There was also a second room, provided at the request of indigenous leaders, for advisors to begin reviewing documents and be available for consultation as the hours ticked on.

Q : What was it like in the room?

A: “The discussion amongst all parties was very, very respectful. It was at a high level. It was intense, sometimes emotional, but at the end of the day it was fair, it was balanced,” Russell said, reiterating his support for the agreement reached. The Telegram reached out to contacts for the Nunatsiavut Government and Innu Nation, with no response prior to press time (all were said to be travelling during the day).

Q : Will the reports related to partial flooding of the reservoir be made public?

A: The Nalcor Energy consultant documents are now available online. They can be found on Nalcor Energy’s website for the Muskrat Falls project, under the “Newsroom” tab, clicking on “Reports” and looking under the heading “Ice Studies & Modeling Reports.”

Q : Releasing water from the partially flooded reservoir area with the spring thaw, where did that idea come from?

A: “From the province, from myself and the premier,” Trimper said. They approached Nalcor Energy’s project team with the concept prior to the leaders’ meeting. “They confirmed it could be done,” he said. And no, it was not previously in project plans. There is no indication at this point what it might mean for project cost and timeline.

Q : Is an Independent Expert Advisory Committee (IEAC) to be created?

A: The provincial government sent a letter about a week ago to the indigenous leaders and asked for recommendations for representatives to sit on the advisory committee. Responses are expected by the first week of November. There was little move to consider and reach out to potential representatives before the leaders’ meeting, Russell said, but names are now being settled on. The province said the committee will include municipal, provincial and federal representatives, with no word on potential names.

Q : If part of reservoir is flooded within days, doesn’t that still produce methylmercury?

A: The answer is yes, but it will be limited by the smaller area (compared to full reservoir flooding), some of the area already being subject to periodic flooding, and the time of year. The partial flooding will involve about 11 square kilometres (of a planned 41-square-kilometre reservoir) that, Bell noted, includes area sometimes covered in times of extreme weather and spring runoff. Sampling, including for the Lake Melville study, has suggested the ground holds overall less ability to produce methylmercury and send it into the regional food chain than other parts of the proposed full reservoir area. Bell added he believes there will be time available for more sampling before the partial flooding.

Q : Would reservoir soil clearing require a separate environmental assessment?

A: “Our suspicion is that it may be required,” Trimper said. But there are other issues with soil removal to be explored, he said, by the IEAC once established. More specifically, there is scientific research required to determine whether removing topsoil should happen and how much would be removed. There are practical concerns, including how the topsoil layer would be scraped off and hauled out, plus how that material would be dealt with. There will need to be determinations on, as one example, whether or not the removal of the soil would contradict Nalcor’s Harmful Alteration, Disruption or Destruction (HADD) Permit issued under the Fisheries Act and other legal requirements. “Where this needs to go first is understanding whether or not the mitigation measure is required and then how that would relate to the water column, the uptake (of methylmercury) through the food chain and ultimately on human health,” Trimper said. That means more scientific study, as directed by the IEAC, in the coming year.

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