Bailey White · CBC News · Posted: Jul 24, 2019 2:56 PM NT | Last Updated: July 24, 2019
It took fewer than 300 words to cement a deal that will see Crown corporation Nalcor transfer $10 million to the NunatuKavut Community Council, an Indigenous group in Labrador.
The page-and-a-half long agreement stipulates the council use the money to fund social and health programs, but does not stipulate what such programs might look like, or how the millions will be delivered.
But in a statement Wednesday afternoon, Nalcor said its deal does not stipulate how the money is to be used.
“It’s a very simple agreement,” NCC president Todd Russell told CBC Radio’s Labrador Morning.
“Our only commitment [is] to use these funds is for the betterment of our people and communities.”
The money is NCC’s share of $30 million the energy company earmarked for mitigation of methylmercury risks at the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project, split three ways and offered to Indigenous groups after Nalcor and the province missed a deadline to complete the work.
On Tuesday, Premier Dwight Ball announced a pair of agreements Nalcor made with the NCC and Innu Nation.
Nunatsiavut, the Labrador Inuit government, was offered a similar agreement but hasn’t accepted.
NCC Nalcor Agreement July 17 2019
Speaking to reporters, Ball said the deal “is not about mitigation as compensation,” but the agreement between Nalcor and the NCC does make a connection between risks associated with the project and the funds.
“Whereas the NCC has raised concerns in respect of adverse health effects arising from the Muskrat Falls project…” it begins, before outlining the four terms of the deal.
When the Muskrat Falls reservoir is flooded next month, trees and vegetation will be submerged and eventually decompose. As that happens, they’ll release methylmercury into the reservoir and its ecosystem.
The naturally occurring substance is safe in small amounts, but concerns rose to a fever pitch in 2016 when research funded by Nunatsiavut was released, suggested that flooding the Muskrat Falls reservoir would result in so much methylmercury being released that it could make fish, seals and seabirds in the area unsafe for human consumption.
Nalcor’s own research suggested methylmercury levels would rise only slightly and have no impact on human health.
The province and Nalcor had planned to cover carbon-rich wetlands in the reservoir area to reduce the release of methylmercury, but missed a deadline to get the work done.
Nalcor, meanwhile, said in a statement Wednesday afternoon that it “did not direct the Indigenous groups on how their funds should be utilized,” adding that decision would be left to each group to determine.
“CEO Stan Marshall met with representatives from Labrador’s three Indigenous groups to discuss ways the funds could be used to directly benefit the Indigenous communities and their members,” the statement read.
Russell, who has twice been arrested for protesting construction of the Muskrat Falls dam, said the decision to accept Nalcor’s offer turned on newly collected data about methylmercury.
Initial flooding has already taken place at the Muskrat Falls reservoir and Nalcor has been monitoring methylmercury levels.
On Tuesday, Environment Minister Lisa Dempster said levels have not increased.
Given that new information, Russell said, and “the fact that the clock had run out” on wetland capping, NCC decided to accept Nalcor’s offer.
“We were presented with an opportunity to have some additional resources — significant resources — go into our organization to help our people,” he said.
“Those funds were better utilized within NCC than left with Nalcor.”
Innu Nation, which also accepted $10 million from Nalcor, released a statement on Wednesday.
The Innu group has often differed with other Indigenous organization in Labrador over the best way to handle methylmercury concerns.
The statement, attributed to Grand Chief Gregory Rich, says the Innu Nation supports decisions based in science.
“Innu Nation has closely examined all the science, including Nunatsiavut government’s own studies. They have been found lacking and other scientists have proven them wrong — it’s time to accept that,” the statement reads.
On Monday, Nunatsiavut called on the premier to suspend reservoir flooding until mitigation measures can be taken, but Ball didn’t entertain the request.
Instead, he told reporters he hoped the two sides could reach a financial agreement.
CBC News requested an interview with Nalcor president and CEO Stan Marshall about the decision to give $30 million away.
The Muskrat Falls project is billions of dollars over budget and climbing costs will contribute to power rates expected to be nearly double current fees.
A spokesperson said Marshall was not available. No one else from Nalcor was immediately available to answer questions.