Res­i­dents live in fear

Town down­stream from hy­dro dam

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - ATLANTIC -

A nag­ging dread is keep­ing Craig Chaulk up at night.

He lives down­stream from the $12.7-bil­lion Muskrat Falls hy­dro­elec­tric de­vel­op­ment in Labrador. He’s among many res­i­dents con­cerned that a cru­cial part of the dam, a jut of sand and clay called the North Spur, could give way.

“My big­gest fear is that the project will go to com­ple­tion, the reser­voir will be filled to 39 me­tres as they’re propos­ing, the North Spur will fail and this lit­tle com­mu­nity that I live in will be wiped right off the face of this Earth,” Chaulk said from his home at Mud Lake.

The 200-year-old com­mu­nity of about 70 peo­ple has al­ready faced the worst spring flood­ing any­one there can re­mem­ber. Chaulk and dozens of other res­i­dents were air­lifted to safety May 17 as wa­ter lev­els swiftly rose af­ter ice jammed where the lower Churchill River meets Lake Melville.

Crown cor­po­ra­tion Nal­cor En­ergy, which is re­spon­si­ble for Muskrat Falls, has de­nied it did any­thing to swamp al­most 50 homes and struc­tures. It blamed the in­ci­dent on spring run-off. The flood is now un­der in­de­pen­dent re­view.

Chaulk said that ex­pe­ri­ence has shaken his con­fi­dence in the de­vel­op­ment - es­pe­cially as ques­tions per­sist about the North Spur.

It’s a nat­u­ral dam of clay and sand that will form a crit­i­cal part of the Muskrat Falls project to har­ness hy­dro power near Happy Val­ley-Goose Bay. Land­slides have hap­pened in that area be­fore.

Chaulk takes no com­fort from Nal­cor’s pub­lic as­sur­ances that the North Spur has been sta­bi­lized, pro­tected and re­in­forced us­ing proven en­gi­neer­ing meth­ods en­dorsed by third par­ties.

He’s among in­creas­ingly vo­cal skep­tics who say it’s a weak link in the megapro­ject’s de­sign that, like the Mud Lake flood, should be in­de­pen­dently re­viewed.

They in­clude David Vardy, a for­mer chair­man of the provin­cial Pub­lic Util­i­ties Board, who served as a se­nior pub­lic ser­vant for al­most 30 years. He be­lieves there’s a lack of geotech­ni­cal ev­i­dence that po­ten­tially sen­si­tive clays un­der­ly­ing the North Spur can with­stand the pres­sure of higher reser­voir lev­els.

Vardy noted the is­sue was red-flagged in an in­ter­nal 2013 risk as­sess­ment re­port by en­gi­neer­ing and con­struc­tion firm SNC-Lavalin, which de­signed Muskrat Falls and the North Spur dam.

Nat­u­ral Re­sources Min­is­ter Siob­han Coady said Fri­day in a state­ment that North Spur ground­wa­ter and soil prop­er­ties “have been stud­ied by mul­ti­ple geo­science en­gi­neers since 1965.”

“The North Spur also meets Dam Safety Guide­lines as out­lined by the Cana­dian Dam As­so­ci­a­tion,” she added.

Vardy is not con­vinced. The North Spur is not like fully en­gi­neered dams, he stressed.

“We need the gov­ern­ment to ap­point an ex­pert panel,” he said in an in­ter­view. “The prob­lem here is, for what­ever rea­son, Nal­cor has de­cided that this is all per­fectly safe.”

A group of con­cerned cit­i­zens is also call­ing on Pre­mier Dwight Ball to act. In an open let­ter Wed­nes­day, the Labrador Land Pro­tec­tors and Grand River­keeper Labrador said they’ve re­ceived no re­sponse to a let­ter May 9 urg­ing an in­de­pen­dent ex­pert re­view.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.