Nfld. & Labrador

Broken promise: Nunatsiavut president, premier clash over Muskrat Falls water levels

The president of Nunatsiavut says the Newfoundland and Labrador government is breaking a key commitment about the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project.

Dwight Ball, Nalcor say engineers were concerned about erosion after water levels lowered

Johannes Lampe, president of the Nunatsiavut government, says a promise was made to lower water levels in the Muskrat Falls reservoir but the commitment was not honoured. (Katie Breen/CBC)

The president of Nunatsiavut says the Newfoundland and Labrador government is breaking a promise made to end hunger strikes against the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project last fall.

"The commitments made are not being honoured," Johannes Lampe told CBC Television's Here & Now.

Lampe said Crown energy corporation Nalcor was supposed to lower water levels in the reservoir this spring, something he said Premier Dwight Ball promised following an all-night meeting in October to address protests over methylmercury contamination.

"We have always said that the only way measures or research can be done is when the water levels are lowered," Lampe told CBC's Labrador Morning on Tuesday. "So with the water levels high we cannot do that."

In October 2016, Premier Dwight Ball and aboriginal leaders announced an agreement to end protests — including hunger strikes — at Muskrat Falls. (CBC)

In a statement Tuesday, Nalcor said it lowered water levels from 22.5 metres to 20.3 metres in June, but did not go further when engineers expressed concern that some of the reservoir banks were eroding.

The company said it did not lower the water level further "in the interest of public safety." It noted that the average water level in the reservoir during spring conditions is 20 metres.

Nalcor said in its statement that about 40 hectares of trees were cleared from the reservoir over the summer. Protesters had asked for clearcutting to remove vegetation that might decompose and push mercury levels up.

Everyone in the loop

Both Ball and Nalcor said all stakeholders, including Nunatsiavut, had been kept informed about decisions made on water levels. 

"In light of our efforts to ensure the Nunatsiavut government is fully engaged, it is disappointing that they are calling our commitment to partnership into question," Ball wrote in a statement issued Monday night.

In a statement to media, Premier Dwight Ball says the Nunatsiavut government has been fully in the loop through the entire decision-making process when it comes to water levels at the Muskrat Falls resevoir. (John Pike/CBC)

Lampe said the slope erosion issue was raised only this summer, and said the premier needs to do a better job of explaining, especially if there are possible health and safety risks.

"The premier is supposed to be the first to know about any risks or any other factors that concern the Muskrat Falls project," he said.

Nalcor says when it lowered water levels in the Muskrat Falls reservoir in June, engineers expressed concern about erosion. (Nalcor)

Ball said an independent committee has been asked to review the latest engineering reports on the impact of flooding. He said Nunatsiavut, along with other stakeholders, will be updated every step of the way.

"The leadership of the Nunatsiavut government have been engaged in an open and transparent matter on all issues surrounding the Muskrat Falls project," he wrote.

Nalcor, meanwhile, said it met with the advisory committee Sept. 8 and is awaiting further guidance about what other mitigation measures are required.

With files from Labrador Morning