Exploring other options
Editor’s note: the following letter also appeared in the May 1 edition of The Telegram.
Ian Murdoch’s article “Transmission line crosses close to 600 rivers, streams” in the April 17 Telegram underscores the need for public hearings and further examination on Nalcor’s Environmental Impact Statement regarding the effect this transmission line will have on the natural habitat of Newfoundland and Labrador.
According to the information available, this transmission line will significantly alter another 2,200 square kilometres of natural habitat in Newfoundland and Labrador. Not too much, you might think, when compared to the size of Newfoundland (110,000 square kilometres).
However, it stands as another example of the ongoing environmental degradation of the natural habitat of the island which, over the years, has included extensive clearcut forestry practices with a wide ranging network of pulpwood and lumber roads, ever- increasing human intrusion from ATV and snowmobile use, over 600 abandoned unremediated mining sites and numerous abandoned and semi-abandoned gravel pits.
The corridor-style transmission line development proposed by Nalcor wi l l only ser ve to further increase this loss of natural habitat in Newfoundland and Labrador. One of the native animal species affected by a cumulative loss of natural habitat is Newfoundland caribou. The major concern here is the loss of functional caribou habitat which as many of us who live in Newfoundland realize is much, much smaller than the whole island and is limited to certain specific areas.
The environmental impact statement provided by Nalcor has little, if any, monitoring of Newfoundland caribou herds.
Similarly, there is no identifying or accounting for functional loss of specific caribou habitat. These include areas used by caribou for migration, calving and overwintering.
What is of major concern is the cumulative effect of the aforementioned disturbances combined with the 1,000-kilometre long, two-kilometre wide proposed transmission corridor. The corridor-style transmission development proposed by Nalcor will provide easier access for predators, such as coyotes, to areas where caribou herds have their young and spend the winter. Such increased opportunities can only lead to higher rates of caribou predation.
This raises critical questions regarding the survival of caribou herds on the island of Newfoundland. Will this functional loss of natural habitat push Newfoundland caribou herds beyond the tipping point where they cannot sustain their populations? This is a situation that requires arm’s-length, critical, independent study. Something with much more depth than just “public comments.”
Aside from its role in the island’s natural systems, the caribou is one of Newfoundland’s national symbols. It is part of our identity as Newfoundlanders and Labradorians. Because we have the technology and capacity to build this corridor and destroy caribou habitat, does it mean that we should?
Our caribou are seeing their natural habitat destroyed and their numbers are rapidly dwindling. We may well wake up some morning and discover that their numbers are so low, they are in danger of becoming extinct. In Newfoundland and Labrador we treasure our pristine and stunning natural environment. It is one of the great attributes and esthetics we all enjoy. To maintain these valued possessions requires stewardship and protection.
There are other, less intrusive, less expensive options for largescale electricity production.
Green renewable energy sources constructed on the Avalon Peninsula, using the existing transmission lines and decentralized production, could adequately displace the Holyrood generating station.
However, the government of Newfoundland and Labrador and Nalcor refuse to explore them. One would hope the plight of the caribou would be cause enough for the government of Newfoundland and Labrador to pause and reflect on the long-term outcomes of an energy strategy.
Will it negatively effect employment in the province’s ever-expanding tourist industry? Is it possible to replace the Holyrood generating station by developing green energy industries with long-term, stable jobs?
These are points which require public hearings, informed debate and consideration of other viable options. Before we sacrifice our caribou herds and spend $4,4 billion (minimum), we should consider all the options available to us.
After all, it will be us who, in the end, will pay for this project.
Fred Winsor is conservation chair with Sierra Club Canada.
He writes from St. John’s.