A deal has been reached between government and Indigenous leaders that has satisfied the concerns around methylmercury.
The meeting lasted almost 12 hours. But the result is to the satisfaction of Nunatsiavut President Johannes Lampe, Innu Nation Grand Chief Anastasia Qupee, and NunatuKavut Community Council President Todd Russell.
The agreement is this: multiple engineering reports have been supplied to Indigenous groups that explain the rationale behind initial flooding of the Muskrat Falls reservoir. Indigenous groups will get a chance to review the reports and if they are satisfied, initial flooding will begin. After the initial flooding, Nalcor will return water levels to their natural levels to allow more methylmercury mitigation measures to take place – including the possibility of removing topsoil from the reservoir.
An Independent Expert Advisory Committee will be struck that will include members of Indigenous groups, federal, provincial, as well as municipal governments. The committee will look at options for reducing human health risks related to methylmercury in the reservoir, as well as Lake Melville ecosystem.
All parties who attended the marathon meeting have agreed that the meeting marked significant progress towards addressing their concerns.
Too Early to Estimate Cost to Project
Premier Dwight Ball says it’s too early to say how much the agreement reached today with Indigenous leaders will impact the cost and schedule of the Muskrat Falls project.
Premier Ball says the focus of the meeting was the health of the people of Labrador. When the decisions on methylmercury mitigation are agreed upon, then the impacts on the timeline and cost of the project will be more fully known.
He says the decision is about health, not the price tag. He says if they start making a discussion on economic development by putting a price tag on someone’s health, then it’s an easy decision for him.
Still More Decisions to Be Made and Conversations to Be Had, says Premier
Premier Dwight Ball says it wasn’t the protesters at the Muskrat Falls site that prompted the agreement reached after the marathon meeting that ended at 2:30 this morning.
Protests have been happening at the Muskrat Falls site itself, on the road leading to the project, across the province, in Labrador, in Ottawa, with three people going on hunger strikes that lasted close to two weeks.
But Ball says the project has been a concern of his for many years. He says it wasn’t a single protest that prompted the meeting that led to the agreement.
He says the discussion came to a conclusion after a series of talks he’s had about Muskrat Falls. He says he’s been concerned about Muskrat Falls since his time as Opposition Leader, and that there will be many more discussions about the project, with more decisions to come.
Protester Denise Cole disagrees. She says the Premier is trying to take away from the accomplishments of the land protesters, but no matter what he says they were the ones who made this happen and if Muskrat isn’t made right they will be back.
Absent Does Not Mean Disengaged, says Premier
Speculation about the Premier’s whereabouts last week was in question leading up to yesterday’s meeting with Indigenous leaders in St. John’s.
Premier Dwight Ball confirmed that he spent time in Florida while protesters were at the Muskrat Falls site. But he says he was fully engaged on the issue while he was away.
He says he was in Florida in the last week. But, he says he was engaged minute-by-minute on the project. He says it’s been a priority for him for months. He says where he is physically located does not impact how he spends his time or his committment to find a resolution to the Muskrat Falls project.
Agreement Does ‘Exactly What We Set Out to Accomplish’ says Innu Nation Leader
The Indigenous leaders that took part in the negotiations at the Confederation Building are pleased with the way things turned out.
Innu Nation leader, Anastasia Qupee, believes the agreement does exactly what the leaders set out to accomplish. She says they’ve reached an agreement that will protect the health of the indigenous people in the area and the environment.
Nunatsiavut President, Johannes Lampe, says it goes beyond simply protecting health. He says all the work that was done will help the culture and way of life for the people of Labrador.
Meanwhile NunatuKavut President, Todd Russell, says the agreement struck this morning gives the power back to the people of Labrador.
He says the decisions made going forward will be made using science and the traditional knowledge of the Labrador people and not at the whim of government.
Russell says it’s a huge step forward and if done right will make Muskrat right.
Happy Valley-Goose Commends Meeting Participants
The Town of Happy Valley-Goose Bay is thanking the leaders of the Nunatsiavut Government, the NunatuKavut Community Council and the Innu Nation as well as Premier Dwight Ball for their perseverance in reaching an agreement early this morning on methylmercury mitigation at the Muskrat Falls site.
The town is calling the marathon meeting an important one, and they commend all involved for finding a path forward.
In a statement released today, the town says it will continue to advocate for the needs and priorities of residents in Happy Valley-Goose Bay and it remains committed to ensuring that the concerns of residents around emergency response plans are also included as they move forward.
Residents of Happy Valley-Goose Bay have expressed concerns about the stability of the North Spur and appropriate emergency response plans in place.
Meanwhile, Mayor Jamie Snook says it was very disappointing that town representatives were not invited to a meeting between government and indigenous leaders last night.
He says it’s very unfortunate. He says his town has a right to make evidence based decisions just like other levels of government. He says he hopes whatever policies that led his town to be excluded are changed.