Nfld. & Labrador

Government on top of Cartwright concerns, says Lisa Dempster

The MHA for southern Labrador says she understands why people in Cartwright are worried about the Muskrat Falls hydro-electric project, but she believes enough is being done to mitigate health concerns caused by flooding the project's reservoir.

People in Cartwright threatening to block Nalcor transformers moving through the town

People in Cartwright are threatening to disrupt Nalcor's shipment of seven transformers from the coastal town over the Trans-Labrador Highway to the Muskrat Falls work site. (Twitter)

The MHA for southern Labrador says people in Cartwright have valid concerns about the Muskrat Falls hydro-electric project, but she believes enough is being done to mitigate any health risks caused by flooding the project's reservoir.

Lisa Dempster was in Cartwright Thursday night to speak to people about their concerns. 

The MHA for Cartwright-L'Anse au Clair said she understands why people are worried that filling the reservoir could lead to methylmercury contamination of wild game.
Liberal MHA Lisa Dempster was in Cartwright Thursday to speak with people about their concerns over the impact of flooding the Muskrat Falls reservoir. (Submitted)

"I had the same concerns — my colleague from Torngat, [MHA] Randy Edmunds — we're concerned. I'm a member of NunatuKavut. Randy is a member of Nunatsiavut," Dempster told the CBC's Labrador Morning Friday.

"People need to remember that this is our land. This is where we live. This is our home. We are members of those governments. We want to ensure that there is no threat to the people as we go forward with this project."

Dempster said her personal concerns were put to rest during a session about methylmercury contamination on Aug. 4 in Happy Valley-Goose Bay.

That's when the MHA said she heard that partial clearing of the reservoir would be just as effective at mitigating contamination as fully clearing the area of vegetation and soil.

The Nunatsiavut and NunatuKavut governments have been pushing for the full clearing of the area. Members of both Inuit groups rely on fish and game from the Lake Melville area, which will be fed from the Muskrat Falls reservoir.

The Liberal government has repeatedly refused to completely clear the area.

Now people in Cartwright are threatening civil unrest to try to force the provincial government, and its Crown corporation Nalcor, to reconsider that decision. 

Community leaders said they plan to block Nalcor from moving seven 200-tonne transformers through the coastal town to the dam site in central Labrador. 

The commotion in Cartwright is one of the latest protests over mercury concerns. There have been protests in central Labrador, including at Muskrat Falls itself, in Rigolet and even in St. John's by a number of groups, including both Inuit governments and demonstrators with the Make Muskrat Right campaign.

Dempster said the Liberal government respects the concerns of people in Labrador and appreciates when they challenge government's decisions.

"I guess I represent an area too ... a group of people in Labrador, that often, for a long time, never felt that their voices were heard in the previous government. So I can understand them taking this action."

Scrutiny needed earlier

Dempster went on to say that it was the former Tory government that sanctioned Muskrat Falls and the Liberals opposed many of the decisions made by the PCs.

She says now the Liberals are saddled with completing a project that's becoming increasingly unpopular, two years behind schedule and $4 billion over budget.

"I can tell you one thing, if some of the scrutiny and independent oversight that myself and my now government had called for back in the day [had happened], we would not be having this conversation today," Dempster said.

Dempster side-stepped a direct question on whether she supports the people in Cartwright in their efforts to prevent the transformers from moving through the town.

Instead, she said the Liberal cabinet and caucus are still working to address the concerns raised by people in Labrador.

"[We] have made it a priority to ensure that this project moves ahead in a manner … to ensure the proper monitoring is in place so that these concerns that the people have are taken care of."

Nalcor has said the first barge carrying transformers is expected to arrive in Cartwright in the next couple of weeks.

With files from Labrador Morning