Labrador MHA torn over Muskrat Falls mercury fears

Randy Edmunds is uncertain who's right about the risks of methylmercury from the hydroelectric dam's reservoir.

Randy Edmunds uncertain who's right about the risks of methylmercury from the hydroelectric dam's reservoir

Muskrat Falls, the site of the Lower Churchill hydro project, is pictured in this undated file photograph. (CBC)

As the Liberal MHA for Torngat Mountains with strong ties to Labrador's Nunatsiavut government, Randy Edmunds is having a hard time determining who's right about the risks of flooding the reservoir at the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric dam.

Researchers have concluded that flooding the area will lead to increased methylmercury levels downstream in Lake Melville but exactly what that will mean is being hotly debated.

"I'd have to be a top-notch scientist on methylmercury to be able to make a decision on something like that," said Edmunds.

Randy Edmunds, MHA for Labrador's Torngat Mountains, speaks to reporters about the Newfoundland and Labrador residential school settlement on Tuesday. (CBC)

"I'm in somewhat of an awkward situation being part of a [provincial] government that interprets data in one respect, and I'm represented by a [Nunatsiavut] government that interprets the same data and comes up with different conclusions. It's confusing for me and obviously a lot of people in Labrador are confused."

Members of the Nunatsiavut government believe naturally occurring methylmercury that leaches from flooded land will leave country food unsafe to eat. Members of the provincial government are advocating for a wait-and-see approach that includes carefully monitoring methylmercury levels after the reservoir area is flooded.

Nalcor says it will partially clear the reservoir's flood zone but Nunatsiavut wants everything, including soil, taken out to keep methylmercury levels as low as possible. 

Edmunds says it leads him back to questions he's had about the Muskrat Falls project before it was even approved.

"I did not agree with this project going ahead and I made that clear right from the start, and I haven't changed my mind on that ... I went to the premier and I told him don't ever expect me to toe the line on Muskrat Falls, and he appreciated that."

So would he pull the plug on the project now?

"Well, the question now is: Has this project reached the point of no return? We have a $2.5 billion deficit. What would happen if we added $8 billion on top of that — and that's not counting potential lawsuits from Nova Scotia Hydro, Emera, and contractors."

Critics say you can't put a price tag on food safety.

"Nobody wants to see methylmercury levels rise to a point where it will impact food consumption. Nobody want to see that the Innu Nation have given the green light to this project ... I'm sure they don't want to see methylmercury levels increase either."

The Nunatsiavut Assembly reacted with "extreme disappointment" Tuesday as the Newfoundland and Labrador government announced further monitoring for methylmercury at Muskrat Falls, but no changes to reduce the mercury from entering Lake Melville.

Environment and Conservation Minister Perry Trimper said during a news conference that if people living in the area are told not to eat fish, seabirds and seal because of high mercury levels, they will be compensated.

"Country foods are very important for people in this area. Putting a price on that is very difficult to do, so I'm not going to speculate on what that amount would be," Trimper said at the announcement.