Hydro-Quebec will not release any of its emergency preparations for a dam failure in the La Grande system.
The utility also won't release any studies on the diversion of the Great Whale and Rupert rivers; information on the water1evels in the reservoirs; or six blanked-out pages in a report on the safety of the dams in the North.
All this and more was requested by The Nation under the Access to Information Act. After being turned down, The Nation launched an appeal to the Access to Information Commission. A hearing is scheduled for next February at which arguments will be presented.
In an interview, Ghislain Ouellet, Hydro's executive vice-president of production, said some studies can't be released because they were written by engineers whose point of view may be subject to debate.
"It's a point of view that could be debated with other experts. An engineer could say something isn't good, whereas others may say it's fine," Ouellet explained.
"(In emergency planning) we always speak of an extreme theoretical situation. When you say LG-1 or LG-2 will completely disappear; you will agree it's a situation that is completely theoretical. I have total confidence that the community of Chisasibi is in no danger at all."
Ouellet said six pages in the safety report were blanked out because they discuss safety at dams outside the Cree territory. But doesn't any citizen have the right to this information, regardless of where the dams are? "Theoretically, yes, Ouellet said.
Ouellet also confirmed that Hydro plans to cut the number of inspectors working in the North, but denied the cuts will be as big as Hydro unions fear. "It's alarmist to speak of significant cuts," he said.
The cut is likely to be "less than 10 per cent," said Ouellet. Some of the utility's employees in the North are underworked and "do almost nothing," he added. "These could be cut or reallocated to other areas."
A 50-per-cent cut in the number of safety inspectors was spoken of in a one-page document leaked to Hydro's Professional and Office Employees' Union, said Jacques Rodier, union vice-president. "The health of the dams is good. What would put them in peril would be to lower the number of inspections," said Rodier, himself an inspector at LG-2. "It's now at the minimum level. We can't go lower than that."
Sylvain Lesage, another union official, said inspectors are important to detecting problems early before they get serious. "Inspection is a little like insurance. If you cut the number of inspections by half, you double the risk. It's sure it's not a big risk, but it's still two times as big."
Lesage said Hydro is motivated by a policy of "risk-management." Under the policy, it's a better investment to station inspectors in more populated areas because that's where there is higher potential liability in the event of dam problems. Lesage said the calculation of potential liability includes an estimate of how much each human life is worth in dollars.
Hydro spokesman Jean-Claude Lefebvre denied Lesage's claims. "Be assured, we don't evaluate how much a life is worth. There is no risk we judge acceptable. Our policy is zero-risk. We have inspectors where there are dams, not where there is population.