January 15, 2007

Federal panel endorses Eastmain-Rupert poject

A federal environmental assessment review panel has concluded that Hydro-Quebec's proposed Eastmain-1-A and Rupert diversion project is justifiable from a technical, commercial and economic standpoint. The panel's report, publicly released January 2, further maintains that the project's environmental, social impacts, although numerous and wide-ranging, can be satisfactorily mitigated if the necessary terms and conditions outlined in the report are fulfilled.

The report of the five-member review panel, over 500 pages in length, was submitted to the federal Environment Minister and to the responsible federal authorities, Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) and Transport Canada. It recommends that the project proceed through these departments' approval processes, provided that the panel's recommendations be incorporated into their approval requirements, over and above commitments already made by Hydro-Quebec.

The report includes over 80 recommendations directed to Hydro-Quebec, the federal government in general and to DFO and Transport Canada specifically. Many of these deal with programs to monitor impacts on a continuing basis, both during and after construction, as well as measures for addressing cumulative environmental impacts and the social impacts of the project.

The Eastmain-1-A and Rupert River diversion project includes the partial diversion of the Rupert River, at kilometre point (KP) 314, and the creation of the Rupert diversion bays (forebay and tailbay) with a total area of 346 square kilometres (km2). These two diversion bays will require the construction of four control structures, 72 dikes, ten canals and a 2.9-km tunnel linking the two diversion bays. The water level of the Rupert forebay will be controlled by a weir located at the entrance to the transfer tunnel as well as by the Rupert River control structure. The total investment by Hydro-Quebec is expected to be approximately $4 billion, making this the largest hydropower project in Quebec since the James Bay project in the 1970s.

The overall conclusion and recommendation that the project should proceed was endorsed by four of the panel's five members, and a divergent opinion by panel member Jocelyne Beaudet is included as part of the report. In Beaudet's view, the advantages to be gained from the development do not outweigh its negative impacts, and her conclusions differ from those of the other panel members in areas such as adaptive management, the total sum of effects of the project, restrictions on fish consumption, social acceptability and loss of natural heritage.

The final report is available in English and French on the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency's Web site, www.ceaa.gc.ca.

The project also underwent a detailed assessment by a provincial review committee (COMEX), a bipartite agency representing the Quebec government and the Quebec Cree First Nation. COMEX is responsible for assessing the environmental and social impacts of projects located on the James Bay territory. It too gave a favourable and unanimous recommendation, submitted to Minister of Sustainable Development, Environment and Parks Claude Béchard last October. Béchard subsequently issued a provincial certificate of authorization for the project, around the same time the federal panel was submitting its report but before the report was made public.

The certificate was issued under Chapter II of Quebec's Environment Quality Act and Chapter 22 of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement. "The project will be given full go ahead once Fisheries and Oceans Canada and Transport Canada have issued certificates of authorization further to the Federal Commission's submission of its final report," said Béchard.

Of the 97 recommendations made by COMEX, 35 are related to the biophysical environment, 14 deal with the design of the structures, 47 deal with the social environment and the safety of the structures and people. Only one condition concerns monitoring of the cumulative impacts.

Some of the conditions require that the proponent take new approaches. For example, seasonal management of the Rupert River's instream flow must be adapted in such manner as to prioritize the environment's productivity, ensuring that it is maintained.

The certificate of authorization issued by the Quebec government also calls for Hydro-Québec to work with COMEX to set up a new hearing with the Cree population. This hearing should take place following the construction phase, but prior to start-up. The new hearing will serve to provide the Cree's point of view on the efficiency of the mitigation measures that will have been put in place and on the means that could be considered to prevent residual impacts from the project.

The certificate of authorization, the COMEX report and other related information may be viewed on the Ministry of Sustainable Development, Environment and Parks Web site, www.mddep.gouv.qc.ca.

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