Mud Lake wants road in case of 'catastrophic failure' at Muskrat Falls

Residents of a tiny Labrador community are petitioning for an emergency exit in case they have to get out of town because of a "catastrophic failure" at the Muskrat Falls project, just up the Churchill River.

'If the dam failed, Mud Lake would be under about 6 metres of water,' says area resident

People like living in Mud Lake, a quiet community on the Churchill River, because of its isolation. (Jacob Barker)

Residents of the tiny Labrador community of Mud Lake are asking for an emergency exit in case they have to get out of town because of a "catastrophic failure" at the Muskrat Falls project, just up the Churchill River.

"If the dam wasn't there, I wouldn't be asking for a road," said retired resident Dave Raeburn, who likes living in the small community because of its isolation. 

The only way in or out of Mud Lake now is by boat or helicopter.

But with the Muskrat Falls project going in just up the Churchill River, Raeburn said the community needs an emergency plan.

Retired Mud Lake resident Dave Raeburn says there should be a way out if a breach in the Muskrat Falls dam floods his community. (Jacob Barker)

He said it should have been included in the overall plan when construction started.

"If the dam failed, Mud Lake would be under about six metres of water in under an hour or so. It would basically be wiped off the map," Raeburn told the CBC.

He wants a road to be built into the community, and as of Wednesday said 52 of the 62 people he had surveyed agreed. 

"Basically, most people are for it," Raeburn said. 

"Just as a form of escape, if something dreadful does happen."

North Spur concerns

He's most uneasy about the North Spur area of Muskrat Falls.

Even though Nalcor is confident in the work it is doing to stabilize the spur against the rise in water that will occur once the reservoir is flooded, Raeburn isn't so sure.

"I just don't understand the thinking in using a pile of sand as part of the dam," he said.

Many people in the small Labrador community of Mud Lake are nervous about a calamity at the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric dam. 0:27

"We're in a situation now where it's being developed and they just haven't come up with a suitable solution for people, like the people in Mud Lake."

The idea of a road was raised in 2011 during the environmental assessment of Muskrat Falls.

If the dam failed, Mud Lake would be under about six metres of water in under an hour.- Dave Raeburn

Transcripts of a meeting held in Mud Lake at that time show that when the subject of a road came up, it was suggested that a majority of people would be against a road because it would change the  dynamics of the community.

Today, things have changed, Raeburn said.

He says his next step is to send the information he's gathered to Premier Dwight Ball, who also serves as the minister of Labrador and Aboriginal Affairs, and MHA Perry Trimper.

Nalcor told the CBC it does plan to hold an emergency preparedness meeting in the community in the near future.

Added benefits

While escape is the main reason Raeburn wants to see a road, he also points to some additional benefits.

Ambulances could reach the community in case of an emergency. It also would eliminate the need for an incinerator, since garbage could be shipped off to the Happy Valley-Goose Bay landfill. 

Raeburn said a proper fire break could be built to protect the community, which had a close call with a forest fire in 2014.

"It was cleared but it's all grown back up again," Raeburn said,

"If there were a road, it would be quite easy to bring heavy equipment in and clear this in a short space of time."

Forest fires caused by lightning burned near Mud Lake in 2014 (Submitted by Dalina Blake)

About the Author

Jacob Barker

Videojournalist

Jacob Barker reports on Labrador for CBC News from Happy Valley-Goose Bay.