Ex­plor­ing other op­tions

The Compass - - OPINION - BY FREDWINSOR

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.

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