Saturday, September 20, 2014
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Native group threatens to take Ottawa to court over Muskrat Falls project


HAPPY VALLEY-GOOSE BAY, N.L. -- A native community council has voted to take the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans to court over the damming of a Labrador river as part of the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project.

The NunatuKavut Community Council has approved a motion to file an application in Federal Court for a judicial review, president Todd Russell said Thursday.

Russell said the group is fighting the department's decision to allow Newfoundland and Labrador Crown utility Nalcor Energy to proceed with a dam on the Churchill River.

"What we will allege is that DFO should never have authorized this permit," Russell said from Happy Valley-Goose Bay.

The department referred questions to Natural Resources Canada.

Jacinthe Perras, a spokeswoman for Natural Resources Canada, said in an email that, "an extensive independent, joint review panel was undertaken on this project that included consultations with the NunatuKavut Community."

"We feel these consultations were adequate."

She said the department can't comment on the details of the court action.

NunatuKavut asserts the permit was issued without proper consultation of its group, which represents the Inuit-Metis of southern Labrador.

The council says damming the river will cause significant and permanent environmental damage and harm the fishery.

The project will have "serious, serious impacts on our people, our land, and our way of life," said Russell.

"I have an obligation to the 5,000 to 6,000 people I represent, on whose ancestral land this permit has been granted, to defend the interests of my people."

Russell said NunatuKavut wants, at the very minimum, to have any work on the dam delayed until the group is consulted and provided with some kind of solution.

He said that could include putting environmental monitoring programs in place or compensation for trappers and harvesters whose livelihoods the group says would be impacted by the project.

"If you're going to do this, our people should be accommodated in one way," he said.

Russell said he expected the application would be filed by the end of next week.

NunatuKavut has long been embroiled in a dispute over the $7.7-billion hydro project on environmental grounds, arguing the development is being pushed through its territory.

In April, the RCMP arrested Russell and seven other members of the group who were protesting the project along the Trans-Labrador Highway.

The community council filed a complaint with the Commission for Public Complaints Against the RCMP, saying it believes its members were unfairly treated.

At the time of the arrest, the Mounties said the protesters were blocking the Trans-Labrador Highway. The council disputed that, saying they slowed down but didn't obstruct traffic.

The hydroelectric project aims to generate power from Churchill Falls and send electricity to Newfoundland and Nova Scotia via transmission lines and subsea cables.

Earlier this week, Nova Scotia's Utility and Review Board gave conditional approval for a proposed, $1.5-billion undersea cable known as the Maritime Link.

The approval came on the same day Hydro-Quebec filed a motion in Quebec Superior Court involving its rights to access energy from the Upper Churchill dam.

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