Nfld. & Labrador

Nalcor changing tone on Mud Lake floods, after repeatedly deflecting blame

Nalcor appears to be backing down from its hard line stance that its operations had no impact whatsoever on the high water levels or flooding in Mud Lake.

'It's entirely reasonable to accuse Nalcor of either creating or contributing to the flood,' says VP

Jim Keating is a vice-president with Nalcor Energy, Newfoundland and Labrador's energy corporation. He is in charge of Nalcor's oil and gas division. (Sherry Vivian/CBC)

Nalcor is changing its tune about the role its operations may have played in causing high water levels along the Churchill River and subsequent flooding in Mud Lake, which required residents to evacuate and destroyed homes. 

"I believe, initially, we responded honestly, but probably not in the best way," Nalcor's vice-president Jim Keating told CBC Radio's Labrador Morning.

"The tone was dismissive, it was, 'Don't look here.' That was not productive ... It raised suspicion."

Following the flood, Nalcor officials repeatedly said there was no manipulation of the water at the dam and that water levels were being constantly maintained at a level of 21.5 metres in the dam's reservoir. 

Mud Lake flood: More residents arrive in Happy Valley-Goose Bay

5 years ago
Duration 1:08
Mud Lake residents arrive at the Happy Valley-Goose Bay airport after being evacuated from their town due to flooding from the Churchill River.

"Anything that is happening with the spring thaw, it's really just passing through the spillway. So we're not doing anything with our normal operations to have impacted that water flow downstream," Deanne Fisher, Nalcor's general manager of corporate affairs said last Thursday. 

'I offered no defence'

However, residents continued to voice their suspicions, followed by others in the academic realm. Keating's comments come just one day after two associate professors at Memorial University in St. John's told CBC Radio's On the Go that Nalcor should not be outright denying it is at fault for the flooding because there isn't enough data to rule it out. 

Keating now says he understands the questions being raised. 

Upstream side of the spillway, as seen on May 19. Gates 1 & 2 are open; and Gates 3, 4 & 5 are partially open. (Nalcor Energy/Submitted)

"In our meetings, I clearly stated, it's entirely reasonable to accuse Nalcor of either creating or contributing to the flood. If I were them, I would offer the same condemnation and I offered no defence," Keating said of his meeting with residents earlier this week.

"The answers that they need requires the kind of analysis in the data that of course we have and we have lots more data. Is it full and perfect? I wouldn't even begin to assess that."

Long-time residents, some who have lived in Mud Lake and the surrounding community for more than 60 years, said they had never experienced flooding to this extent. They refer to traditional knowledge that dates back even further, which doesn't speak of any sort of episode which brought water levels up this high.

Photos taken from the air show the damage from flooding in Mud Lake. (Yvonne Jones)

Earlier this week, Premier Dwight Ball vowed to get to the bottom of what caused the flooding and had this response to a resident who told him Nalcor should not be represented on the committee tasked with investigating the issue.

"We've got to include as many people as we can, independent of Nalcor and those folks," Ball said at the public meeting on the Victoria Day holiday.

Keating said he supports a review or examination into the flooding.

"I committed to the study. I committed to the use of their local knowledge," he said.

"I committed to independence and I committed to working with anyone [Mud Lake residents] would choose, or select to work as an advocate on their behalf to make sure the concerns of the event were duly considered."

With files from Bailey White and Labrador Morning