Muskrat Falls, N.L. – Protesters who broke into the sprawling Muskrat Falls construction site are risking serious injury, the CEO of the Crown corporation in charge of the megaproject said Monday as RCMP shut a key road out of safety concerns.
“We are extremely concerned with the presence of the outside groups on our site, as it puts them and members of our team and contractors at risk,” Stan Marshall said in a statement Monday.
About 50 protesters entered the central Labrador site on Saturday and occupied an accommodation complex, prompting the company to remove about 700 workers from the grounds.
About two dozen protesters have since moved toward the actual construction zone, which poses a major risk to those without proper training and safety equipment, Marshall said.
“This is a large-scale construction site with heavy equipment,” Marshall said. “We continue to work with the RCMP and seek their guidance to ensure the safety of everyone involved.”
Nalcor has asked the protesters to leave the site and proceed to a designated safety zone outside the main gate, where they can continue their protest.
The RCMP later cited safety reasons for closing Route 510, which extends from Happy Valley-Goose Bay in central Labrador to the region’s southeast coast. The Mounties also said drivers can also expects delays on Route 500, which stretches across western Labrador.
“Emergency vehicles are in the area and drivers are asked to proceed with caution,” the RCMP said.
Support from across country
The protesters have drawn support from across the province and country in recent days over concerns about methylmercury contamination that will occur when a 41-square-kilometre area is flooded behind the hydroelectric dam.
Last week, Nalcor agreed to remove more forest cover from the area to alleviate those concerns. But the protesters say they also want all soil removed before the reservoir is created, citing research from a Harvard University research team.
Nalcor officials have said such a move would be unprecedented for a hydro project.
The project is upstream from 2,000 Inuit and other residents in the Lake Melville region.
One Inuk artist who has stopped eating to protest the project has said he’s prepared to die for his cause.
Billy Gauthier and two other protesters travelled to Ottawa for a rally Sunday. He said he’s lost nearly 18 pounds since eating his last meal on October 13th.
Nalcor says methylmercury — a neurotoxin linked to intellectual issues in children, heart problems and other issues — will likely increase between 2.3 and 4.8 times in the lower Churchill River before falling back to baseline levels over the next 15 years.
The corporation has confirmed that residents in the area can eventually expect an advisory warning them to limit their consumption of fish to reduce the risks associated with ingestion of methylmercury.
The impact on people’s health would depend on who will be eating the fish, what type of fish they eat, and how often they eat it. Children and women of child-bearing age are the most vulnerable to the detrimental effects of methylmercury, which is formed when inorganic mercury interacts with bacteria typically found in lakes and streams.
Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Dwight Ball issued a statement Saturday that Nalcor would do nothing to increase water levels until a meeting Tuesday with community leaders. On Sunday, he said in another statement he had been out of the province for a few days “to attend to personal matters,” but the timing of Tuesday’s meeting was accommodate all attendees.
Marshall took over as head of the project last spring after the province’s new Liberal government criticized the project’s lack of oversight.
In June, Marshall confirmed that the estimated cost of the project had jumped from about $7 billion to $11.4 billion. The project is already two years behind schedule When asked if the project had become a “boondoggle,” Marshall agreed.
“My task is to ensure in four years it will not be,” he said at the time.