Innu leaders in Labrador have told a regulatory panel that changes ought to be made to the proposed Lower Churchill hydroelectric megaproject.
"Our consent is required, but it has not yet been obtained," Joseph Riche, grand chief of the Innu Nation, told an environmental review panel in Happy Valley-Goose Bay. The panel is holding weeks of hearings into the proposed development at Muskrat Falls on the Churchill River.
The Innu initialed a deal — known as the New Dawn agreement — that would let the project proceed, but it has not yet been ratified.
"This will only happen if the Innu people are satisfied that the benefits of this project will outweigh the impact," Riche said.
Representatives of the Innu Nation participated in a high-profile ceremony in St. John's last fall that announced the multi-billion-dollar plan to generate power at Muskrat Falls, and then pipe it to Newfoundland and then to Nova Scotia.
If the Innu agree to the project, millions of dollars and plenty of jobs would flow to them, but none of the electricity from Muskrat Falls.
Riche George Rich, the Innu Nation's deputy grand chief, told the panel that Innu want Muskrat Falls energy to flow to Natuashish, the Innu community on Labrador's northern coast, as well as Inuit communities on the coast and the Voisey's Bay mine.
Rich said hydro power should replace the diesel generators that keep Natuashish running.
"This method of energy production is not green, and there have been fuel spills that contaminate our land," Rich told the panel. "The price of diesel energy is also prohibitive."
Some Innu elders, though, oppose Muskrat Falls altogether.
Elizabeth Penashue, a well-known environmental advocate, said the dam built in the 1960s for the Upper Churchill project, caused a great deal of damage.
She said she is concerned about the effect that two more dams would have on the Churchill River, and the habitats that depend on it.
"It's very, very sad," she said.
"It's not only fish that are going to die - beaver, otter, muskrat, fish...all [kinds] of fish."
A previous version of this report erroneously suggested that Innu support for the Muskrat Falls project was conditional on a power line to Natuashish and Labrador's northern coast.Mar 09, 2011 10:50 AM NT