PESSAMIT, QC, July 20, 2016 /PRNewswire/ - The Chief of the Pessamit Innu Indian Band, Mr. René Simon, recently sent a letter* to the Quebec minister of the environment, Mr. David Heurtel, on behalf of his community (the Pessamiulnut), asking that the Quebec-New Hampshire interconnection project be the subject of a public examination held under the auspices of the "Bureau d'audiences publiques sur l'environnement" (BAPE : Bureau of public hearings on the environment). If the request is not met, Pessamit is ready to take the matter to the national and international levels.
An overall lack of coherence
"We intend to demonstrate to the BAPE that in the case of the Quebec - New Hampshire interconnection project, the government is failing to comply with the spirit of its own laws, specifically those regarding the quality of the environment and sustainable development," said Chief Simon. "Indeed, in its impact assessment, Hydro-Québec does not take the cumulative effects of the project into account at all" (Translation from French). There is thus a lack of coherence between the principles established by the above laws and the very narrow framework of the impact assessment. Hydro-Québec Production is playing the role of applicant while avoiding environmental accountability with Hydro-Québec TransÉnergie. We do not find it normal that this project is being analyzed in function of a corporate segmentation, with the production aspect going unmentioned. The legislator's intentions seem incompatible with the fragmentation of environmental rationality, especially in this project where the analytical framework exists within the internal organization of the state company.
An unprecedented situation
With the start of construction of the Bersimis-1 and Bersimis-2 power stations on the Betsiamites River in Quebec's Haute-Côte-Nord (Upper North Shore) region between 1952 and 1956, Quebec laid the groundwork for giant hydro power generating facilities that would include the Manicouagan-Outardes complex. These power stations, located and operated illegitimately in the Nitassinan (traditional territory) of the Pessamiulnut, represent 29% of Hydro-Québec's installed capacity. With only one exception, (Toulnoustouc), they were built without an impact assessment, without the agreement of Pessamit and without compensation: a unique event in Quebec! They have resulted in the flooding of some 2,675 km2 (1,032.8mi²) of productive virgin land, belonging solely to the Nitassinan territory of Pessamit. The aquatic environment has also been massively disrupted. The Betsiamites River, where approximately 1000 catches of salmon per year were recorded between 1940 and 1950, saw this number drop by more than half since the establishment of the dams in the early 1960s. The latest statistics compiled by Pessamit indicate catches of 75 and 77 salmon for the years 2012 and 2013. According to trend curves established from 1948 to 2013, the salmon population could disappear within ten years.
Flow variations: questions remain unanswered
In a context where the Quebec - New Hampshire interconnection project will involve the contribution of peak- load power stations specifically designed to meet short-term peak demands, and given that Bersimis-1 and Bersimis-2 are two such facilities, it is expected that exports to the New England states will cause increased flow variations, which are already considerable at this time (4,590 cubic feet/s to 22,960 cubic feet/s, four to six times per day). Similarly, this is also the case for water levels, which repeatedly vary by 5 feet in one day, depending on energy demand. What is the impact of the current hydraulic management of the Betsiamites River on the tearing away of spawning eggs, the removal of fry from rearing habitats, and the dramatic drop in the river's salmon productivity? Could this situation, which is incompatible with the concept of sustainable development and the underlying principle of precaution, become worse? The irrevocable disruption of a salmon river that has been linked since time immemorial to the history of the Pessamiulnut is now a real short-term threat.
Disregard for international agreements
The Hydro-Québec impact assessment, in addition to totally disregarding the above concerns, literally tramples the Convention for the Conservation of Salmon in the North Atlantic Ocean and the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, both ratified by Canada in 2003. In terms of biological resources, these agreements are based on operational sustainability, protection and restoration, in addition to fostering precaution. Regarding the Betsiamites River, it is clear that through Hydro-Québec and Quebec's complacency, Canada's performance stands well below its international commitments.
Sustainable development VS commercial imperatives
Pessamit insists on the public hearings with the BAPE so that the anticipated but undeclared impacts of the Quebec-New Hampshire Interconnection Project be examined thoroughly. Since the Betsiamites River has been the subject of illegal, repeated and harmful actions on both the environmental and social level, it is time to refocus on the principles of sustainable development that Quebec intends to prioritize over commercial imperatives.
* Letter to Minister Heurtel available through:
SOURCE CONSEIL DES INNUS DE PESSAMIT