Nfld. & Labrador

Small protest begins as Muskrat Falls-bound transformers arrive in Cartwright

Four large transformers have docked on a barge in Cartwright and a small group of protesters has formed.

Traffic delays expected to begin July 26

Jeannie Ward, Anne Hamel and Leona Williams protest in front of one of the transformers shipped into Cartwright, bound for the Muskrat Falls project. (Jacob Barker/CBC)

Four large transformers destined for Muskrat Falls arrived in Cartwright Friday on a barge, prompting a small protest by the evening.

A crowd of fewer than a dozen people was on hand as CBC News arrived in the coastal Labrador community.

Jeannie Ward, who protested at the Muskrat Falls site in October, was one of the demonstrators on hand.

"I'm here until the end," she said. "Enough is enough."

The 200-tonne transformers were shipped from Bay Bulls on the province's Northeast Avalon to a Department of Natural Resources dock in Cartwright. They will now be offloaded and prepared for transport over the next five days.

​The area around the wharf has been fenced off, with signs posted to keep people at a safe distance.

For Ward, the only thing she considers unsafe is the hydroelectric project itself.

"You're hurting us," said protestor Anne Hamel, referencing Nalcor.

"It's history repeating itself. It happened before to the Aboriginal people. They are willing to kill and poison people for the almighty dollar."

Linden Rumbolt was one of the protesters holding a sign in front of the 200-tonne transformers in Cartwright on Friday. (Jacob Barker/CBC)

By July 26, Nalcor hopes to begin shipping the transformers to the Muskrat Falls work site. They will be shipped over land using the main road in Cartwright, then Route 516 and Route 510 on the Trans-Labrador Highway.

Traffic delays are expected.

Mammoet, the contractor responsible for the offloading and transport of the transformers, is in Cartwright setting up its equipment and living accommodations.

A small group of protesters were at the waterfront in Cartwright on Friday, after four transformers bound for Muskrat Falls arrived at the government dock. (Jacob Barker/CBC)

Linden Rumbolt, a young boy, was near the dock on Friday evening holding a sign that said, "How much is my life worth?"

"I like seeing the heavy machinery," the boy said. "But it's kinda wrecking our roads, and lots of traffic."

Linden said he wants Nalcor to stop work on Muskrat Falls, so his family can continue fishing in the area without concerns about mercury levels.

Move has been blocked before

The shipment has been met with controversy in the past.

Nalcor planned to ship the transformers last fall, but residents vetoed the shipment at a public meeting, protesting methylmercury poisoning in the Muskrat Falls reservoir.

At the time, residents said they would not allow the shipment until Nalcor committed to removing all vegetation and soil from the reservoir. One week later, amid growing tension with protesters, Nalcor committed to removing trees.

A week after making the commitment, Premier Dwight Ball met with leaders of three Indigenous groups in Labrador. After an all-night meeting, those leaders told protesters to stand down.

Mayor Dwight Lethbridge worries existing infrastructure won't be able to support the weight of the transformers. (Jacob Barker/CBC)

Cartwright's mayor, Dwight Lethbridge, also voiced concerns about underground infrastructure not being strong enough to support the massive transformers.

"We have aging sewer infrastructure that are in the roads that they want to use," Lethbridge told CBC News in October.

"[I'm] worried that we'll be left with more damage then we had to begin with, and things are already in a pretty sad state."

A second barge will bring three more transformers to Cartwright. It's expected the transformers will take two hours to drive out of town, and will spend nine to10 days on the highway before reaching the Muskrat Falls site.

With files from Jacob Barker