Nfld. & Labrador

Temporary road closure at Muskrat Falls was necessary for safety: RCMP

Protesters who are "occupy[ing]" the accommodations area at the Muskrat Falls project site made a potentially dangerous move towards construction equipment on Monday, Nalcor says.
Last night police presence at the entrance increased dramatically. A tactical team arrived but things remained peaceful. 2:23

Protesters who were "occupy[ing]" the accommodations area at the Muskrat Falls project site made a potentially dangerous move towards construction equipment on Monday, Nalcor says.

Stan Marshall, CEO of Nalcor, said in a news release Monday afternoon that approximately 25 protesters, part of a group that breached the project gates on Saturday, moved towards the construction site.

"This is a large-scale construction site with heavy equipment and many hazards which could cause serious injury to persons without proper training and lacking appropriate personal protection apparel," he wrote.

"We are extremely concerned with the presence of the outside groups on our site as it puts them and members of our team and contractors at risk."

Protestors have been demonstrating near the Muskrat Falls site since Oct. 15. Many say they're worried about planned flooding of the Muskrat Falls reservoir, and possible methylmercury contamination in the ecosystem.

In his first comments since the protests escalated last week, Marshall called on the protesters to return to the so-called safety zone outside the main entrance.

"We continue to work with the RCMP and seek their guidance to ensure the safety of everyone involved. We have requested additional support on site until the situation is resolved," Marshall wrote in the release.

RCMP reopen highway

Meanwhile, early Monday afternoon the RCMP closed Route 510 which runs from Happy Valley-Goose Bay to Labrador's south coast, and is the main highway which leads to the Muskrat Falls project site, over "public safety concerns."

The road was reopened Monday evening, before 8:30 p.m.

Police said in a press release that the "high volume of vehicle and pedestrian traffic" created a public safety concern.

"It was necessary to block the road to ensure the safety and security of those in the area," the Mounties wrote.

Some protesters felt it was wrong for the RCMP to close the road and cut off their access to the demonstration.

"I think our rights as peaceful protectors are taken away," said Ford Brown. "Where's [our] freedom of speech and expression? Gone."

The police force did not immediately respond Monday night to additional questions about the highway closure.

RCMP assigned extra officers, including a tactical police team, to the gate of the Muskrat Falls site Sunday night, but things remained peaceful.

Flouting arrest

Bart Jack, an Innu leader, was one of the protesters staying inside the accommodations area at the project site.

He told CBC Here & Now's Jonathan Crowe that although he was at risk of arrest for breaching a court order blocking protest at the Muskrat Falls site, it's a small risk.

"That's a very small price to pay for a land that has been bountiful for many of our generations," he said Monday night.

"The big price will be what we will lose in the eventual flooding of the river without any mitigative methods by the company."

Bart Jack was involved in a protest at the Muskrat Falls site in June. (Janet Cooper/Facebook)

Jack said he did not expect much to come from the planned meeting between Ball and Indigenous leaders in St. John's, set for Tuesday afternoon.

He said that Ball, who is also minister of Aboriginal Affairs, should be up in Labrador, speaking directly with protestors.

"Unless you meet the people who have the demands, like we have, and have a vested interest....then that meeting in St. John's … is completely useless."

North Spur targeted

One group of protesters walked towards the North Spur portion of the Muskrat Falls project on Monday.

John Learning was one of the protesters that walked towards the North Spur on Monday. (CBC)

Protesters said they were scouting for places to camp, if required, though insisted they were not tampering with any work equipment.

John Learning explained it was an attempt to shut down more work areas of the hydroelectric project.

"All this equipment shut down, that must be a big loss," he said. "That's the part that we want, the longer they're shut down the better it is."

'We're not intimidated'

"I talked with the RCMP and they said they had additional numbers because there was additional numbers out here [at the gate]," said Roy Blake, Ordinary Member for Upper Lake Melville with the Nunastiavut government.

"I asked them [if] they were going inside. They said they had no reason to go inside, but in the same breath, we've got to keep it peaceful."

Roy Blake with the Nunastiavut government says the number of police at the Muskrat Falls site was increased Sunday. (Jacob Barker/CBC)

Blake said he doesn't agree with the decision to bring in a tactical team, but said the protesters are not intimidated.

With files from Jacob Barker

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