The Government of Newfoundland and Labrador is calling for co-operation all around to aid the announced inquiry into the $12.7-billion Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project.
That is the current cost estimate. The project on the lower Churchill River in Labrador is now about two years behind schedule and was once suggested at a cost of $6.2 billion.
On Monday, Premier Dwight Ball — flanked by Natural Resources Minister Siobhan Coady and Justice Minister Andrew Parsons — released the terms of reference for an inquiry to review the 824-megawatt project. It will be led by Justice Richard LeBlanc.
The LeBlanc inquiry is expected to take the next two years. Costs have yet to be determined.
Muskrat Falls inquiry coming, Ball says
Parsons said the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador is in no position to write blank cheques, but both he and the premier said the government is committed to seeing the promised inquiry through.
LeBlanc’s day-to-day work will begin in January. The inquiry is not required to be finished before the next general election. However, the premier said he expects LeBlanc to be able to provide answers to the people of the province.
The commissioner has specifically been asked to establish the facts on the decision to sanction the project, changes in cost and timeline, the exemption of the project from Public Utilities Board oversight, whether or not the government has remained fully informed of risks and problems arising, and whether or not appropriate oversight measures were employed.
The terms are broad enough to allow LeBlanc to look at any issues he feels he needs to, according to the premier and ministers, who were asked why environmental concerns such as methylmercury were not specifically written into the terms of reference.
Progressive Conservative MHA Keith Hutchings, part of the previous Tory government responsible for the project, said he has no issue with the release of any records to the commissioner.
“There’s issues across the country in regards to megaprojects, from the time they’re sanctioned, designed, engineered, built — there’s a lot of things that go on during that period. That’s what we need to look at. And if there’s things we can learn from this inquiry, related to projects, related to if we’re going to build Gull Island, I’m all for that,” he said.
Progressive Conservative Leader Paul Davis reiterated that pledge later in the day, saying he personally has nothing to hide from his time as premier.
NDP interim leader Lorraine Michael told reporters a forensic audit could more quickly get the answers people are looking for. She said a forensic audit should have been in the terms of reference, even though LeBlanc can have a forensic audit completed if he sees fit.
“To me the issues of North Spur have to be raised, we have to look at the whole issue of how the aboriginal voices have not been listened to, the issues around methylmercury — I’m sorry, this provincial government has not dealt with that issue the way they should be dealing with it,” Michael said.
Independent MHA Paul Lane said he is happy to see the inquiry, even if he still has unanswered questions around the process. He told The Telegram he will look to see whether or not there is a means for submissions from members of the public.
“Also, as this inquiry does not give the commissioner the ability to recommend matters for criminal or civil litigation, I will be seeking clarification as to who will be monitoring the proceedings and evidence to ensure any appropriate matters are referred to the authorities for investigation if warranted,” Lane stated.
From Danny Williams
In a statement circulated to reporters, former premier Danny Williams said he is pleased to see the inquiry called.
“There has been so much negativity surrounding this project in recent years and I completely appreciate the public’s desire to see this inquiry proceed,” Williams stated. “It is my hope that not only will the project’s alleged deficiencies be carefully examined, but also that we might see the positive aspects highlighted for a complete and balanced picture.”
Nalcor Energy has already started gathering documents.
“Nalcor will support and co-operate fully with the inquiry for the Muskrat Falls project and is committed to making information available to the inquiry,” read a statement supplied Monday by a communications staff member.
“I know that there are some people who might have wanted more specific calls on the inquiry to address certain matters, but I believe the terms of reference may be broad enough to address the issues and concerns that we have,” said NunatuKavut President Todd Russell, adding that the premier informed the council the terms of reference were being released.
“Now we have to determine whether we want to participate in this or not, given the terms of reference, and that decision has not been made,” he said.
Having long opposed the project, members of the Labrador Land Protectors were less enthused by the announcement of the terms of reference, particularly since they require LeBlanc to seek involvement of the Indigenous governments.
“There’s a big difference between having a relationship with the people and with the leaders,” stated Denise Cole, a member of the grassroots group.
Cole said concerns such as the stability of infrastructure — including the so-called North Spur, making up part of the dam site — should have been explicitly included in the terms of reference.
“I can tell you there’s a lot of people on the ground who don’t feel they’re going to be consulted, or certainly that their consent isn’t important anymore,” she said.
Responses from the Nunatsiavut Government and Innu Nation were not received by The Telegram before deadline. The Telegram will provide further response as it become available.
The Government of Newfoundland and Labrador remains committed to seeing the project completed. It is now at about 86 per cent complete.
Nalcor Energy says it is working to have the transmission portion of the project online by mid-2018.
Muskrat Falls inquiry details released
Final report due by Dec. 31, 2019
The Government of Newfoundland and Labrador is moving ahead with an inquiry, investigating the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric power project.
The inquiry will address billions in cost overruns and blown timelines, but also the original decision to build the hydro facility.
The commissioner will be Supreme Court Justice Richard LeBlanc who has already been selected and is in the process of addressing existing commitments, to free himself for the inquiry.
He will be responsible for the inquiry over the next two years.
A final report will be due to government by Dec. 31, 2019.
A budget has yet to be determined, as legislation dictates the minister consult with LeBlanc before budget decisions are made.
The inquiry will not be allowed, regardless of conclusions, to make any findings of civil or criminal liability.
The inquiry report is expected to address facts around: the decision to sanction, why cost and timeline estimates have been exceeded, exemption of the project from Public Utilities Board oversight, whether or not government has remained fully informed of risks and problems arising and whether or not appropriate measures were employed for project oversight.
The commissioner will have co-counsel, yet to be named, and is able to seek outside technical expertise.
Environmental concerns, including concerns relating to methylmercury, have not been specifically included in the terms of reference.
The project is reportedly 86 per cent complete as of the end of September.
Full power is not expected until 2020, about two years behind schedule.
-WIth files from CP