The Grand Council of the Crees

Hydroelectric megaproject Charest abandons Great Whale again

Hydroelectric megaproject Charest abandons Great Whale again

Posted: 2006-04-04

By Charles Côté of La Presse, translated by Kathleen Arsenault for GCC.ca

French version originally from Cyberpresse.ca, April 4, 2006.
http://www.cyberpresse.ca/article/20060404/CPACTUALITES/604040756 [Opens a new window]

No sooner after making the headlines following comments by Minister Raymond Bachand, the Great Whale hydroelectric megaproject is once again abandoned. Such is the assurance that the Grand Chief of the Crees, Matthew Mukash, received from Premier Jean Charest during a recent meeting.

"Mr. Charest told me that Great Whale would not be part of the energy policy to be revealed soon, affirmed yesterday Mr. Mukash in an interview with La Presse. He told me that the project would not reappear as long as he's in power. He told me that three times."

Mr. Mukash said that he was assured of this at his first meeting with Mr. Charest, on March 24, 2006. Twelve days earlier, on March 12th, the new Minister for Economic Development, Raymond Bachand, had stated that abandoning the Great Whale project in 1994 had been a "mistake". In an interview with Canadian Press, Mr. Bachand had added that the government was ready to ""re-accelerate"" hydro development in James Bay.

According to Mr. Mukash, Mr. Charest said that the statements were made by a "new minister" who'd "gone a little too far". "Mr. Charest informed me that the other hydroelectric projects would be focussed mostly on the North Shore," said Mr. Mukash.

At that time, the new Grand Chief of the Crees had been one of the main opponents of the project for an hydroelectric complex on the Great Whale River. He had paddled the Hudson River in New York City to solicit the opposition of American environmentalists against the 15-billion dollar megaproject.

Mr. Mukash confirmed that he would respect the terms of the Paix des Braves Agreement, even though he's been most critical of the agreement. He was elected last September, beating Ted Moses, the Cree architect of this treaty signed in 2002 by then Premier, Bernard Landry. The treaty settles all disputed claims between Québec and the Cree community in exchange for the payment of 70 million dollars per year for 50 years. In return, the Crees gave their consent to divert the Rupert River, subject to an environmental assessment.

"We are tied by the decision of the Cree Nation, who approved the Paix des Braves Agreement by referendum in 2002, said Mr. Mukash. I tell people that I will honour the Paix des Braves. But, as is the case with the James Bay Agreement, future modifications are always possible, if there are application problems."

He added that, by June, the Grand Council of the Crees would present a brief on the environmental impact of the Rupert Diversion Project when it appears at the public hearings.

This four-billion dollar project is the largest one that Hydro-Québec has undertaken in 15 years. The major part of the Rupert River will be diverted 200 km north, to the reservoirs of the La Grande Complex. The project is the last one on Hydro-Québec's drawing board with a production cost under 6 cents per kilowatt-hour.

The Rupert River is the largest wild river in Québec. It has its source in Lake Mistassini, the largest in the province, and flows into the most southernly part of James Bay, 400 kilometres west.

While Mr. Mukash has accepted his predecessor's and the small majority's position in favour of the treaty, he fears the day when the Rupert River will be diverted. "I don't like to anticipate it and I try not to think of it, he said. All I'm saying is that we'll respect the environmental assessment process. Both sides will respect it."

He views wind energy as a future alternative. "Economically, it's good. It's also good for the environment even if it's not lovely, he said. And it could save other rivers and avoid flooding other land."

Great Whale Project

The project involved the Great Whale River, or Whapmagoostui, its Cree name. It takes its source in Bienville Lake and flows into Hudson Bay, covering a distance of 700 kilometres.

The project originated in 1986 under the Liberal government of Robert Bourassa. It was to include three power stations totalling 3,000 megawatts, at a cost of 15 billion dollars. Its rate of return was tied to US sales.

Construction was to begin in 1991 but the Crees held up everything before the courts. Led by then Grand Chief Matthew Coon-Come, the Crees won many legal battles, in particular one requiring an environmental assessment of the project.

The loss of US contracts as well as failure to accept the environmental impact study led PQ Premier Jacques Parizeau to finally abandon the project in 1994.