Eastmain 1-A and Rupert River Diversion Hydropower Project
Report by the Provincial Review Committee to the Administrator of Chapter 22 of the James Bay and Northern Québec Agreement - Exécutive Summary
2006, October 31st
The COMEX report is the outcome of a long and complex environmental and social assessment that took place pursuant to the Environment Quality Act, the James Bay and Northern Québec Agreement, and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. The parties responsible for the implementation and smooth functioning of the various environmental assessment processes agreed to incorporate their processes into a whole in a tripartite agreement signed in April 2003 by the governments of Canada and Québec and the CRA (P1). This agreement stipulates that to the greatest extent possible, the review bodies strive to harmonize the assessment processes in order to avoid duplication, and work together to ensure that assessments are effective and appropriate.
Analysis of the project, which ends with the filing of COMEX’s recommendation with the Administrator supported by this report, was also completed in the same spirit. COMEX has always considered that this development project, of a size and schedule rarely before equalled in Québec, has, and will have, significant, complex effects on the surrounding communities as well as on the economic development of the region and of Québec as a whole. Moreover, it represents a societal choice in the development of a power generating option that experienced something of a slowdown over recent years and its analysis is done against the backdrop of the 2002 signing of the Paix des braves agreement (R5) between the Cree Nation and Québec, as well as a series of sectoral agreements which include the Boumhounan Agreement (M70.5).
The public hearings held on the project and its impacts revealed that Cree society, whose demographics are rapidly growing, is divided on the project. As a matter of fact, it is clear from the public hearings that all of the Cree are attached to their culture and feel that the practice of hunting, fishing and trapping is a core value of Cree society. On the other hand, a percentage of them want to modernize, with the changes to traditional values that this entails. COMEX wishes to emphasize that at times it is difficult to classify the causes of the profound social changes that these communities have experienced, since the hydroelectric development envisaged by the proponent has coincided with the arrival of modernity.
In Chibougamau and Montréal, emphasis has been placed primarily on the economic spin-offs a project of this nature produces through the awarding of contracts and job creation, as well as the regional development opportunities and the resulting development of expertise. COMEX understands that this project, which will require over $4,000,000,000 in investments, represents a significant economic generator, and in some cases, will stimulate regions experiencing slowdowns in other natural resource development sectors. We must remember that the prospect of jobs related to the project also creates hope among some members of Cree communities who therein see the possibility of development and a solution to the chronic lack of jobs for youth.
The project entails reducing the flow of the Rupert River from KP 314 to its mouth. This flow reduction will range from 71% at the diversion point to 51% at the mouth of the Rupert Bay compared with the mean annual flow. Despite maintaining an instream flow regime, restoration of flow corresponding to the mean natural hydrograph in the Lemare and Nemiscau rivers and the construction of nine control structures along the reduced-flow reach, it is undeniable that the appearance of the river will change and that these expected modifications raise questions and concerns on the part of users. From a biophysical impact perspective, the proponent has made a certain number of commitments, ranging from environmental monitoring to remedial measures (development of spawning grounds, seeding the banks, fish passage systems, etc.) to better identify or correct the expected impacts. COMEX finds that these efforts are adequate and are going in the right direction, i.e., the maintenance of a “living” river, attractive from a survival perspective for species currently inhabiting the river as well as for multiples uses.
The proponent is committed to respecting the principles of adaptive management for the anticipated instream flow downstream from the Rupert River diversion point. This mitigation measure, a key element of the project design, created a great deal of interest when the project was being analyzed. COMEX acknowledges that the proponent’s efforts to establish this type of regime were impressive and above and beyond the efforts normally made in hydroelectric development that entail a reduced-flow reach in a river. On the other hand, the very nature of the project and the scope of the work require considerable effort in this regard as the flow reduction in 314 km of the Rupert River has undeniable impacts on a set of factors which include fish, the landscape, navigation and traditional activities. COMEX concludes that the implementation of the principle of adaptive management of instream flow allows, if need be, this scheme to be revised in order to correct an impact detected after the fact by the multiple environmental follow-ups that the proponent must carry out or by means of the observations made by the land users.
COMEX’s recommendations regarding biophysical impacts are in great part focused on the filing for approval with the Administrator of the various environmental monitoring programs and their findings. These conditions for authorization will ensure that the assessment of actual impacts and the success of mitigation measures are monitored continuously by the bodies responsible for the implementation of Chapter II of the Environment Quality Act and Chapter 22 of the JBNQA. Additions have, however, been made regarding the monitoring indicators that the proponent used in its impact assessment for the purpose of completing the environmental assessment and impacts once the facilities are in operation. In order to partially correct the gaps in the dissemination of information gathered by the proponent on-site on the evolution of the ecosystems, the proponent is also requested to include the Crees in planning, producing and disseminating the findings of the various monitoring campaigns. This condition has two objectives: dissemination of information and education about the new environments created by the project. This condition aims to correct a situation brought to light by the public hearings: the very negative perception that the Crees have on the matter of practicing traditional activities in the environments that have been altered in the past by hydroelectric development projects.
COMEX also feels that the proponent will be able to benefit from the Crees’ ideas and knowledge in planning environmental monitoring programs and creating mitigation measures. This could be the opportunity for the proponent to innovate in this area, particularly in the mitigation and compensation measures planned to encourage hunting and fishing, taking traditional knowledge into account.
In the matter of communication, COMEX recommends that the proponent participate in the implementation of an a posteriori consultation process with the Cree population. COMEX is of the opinion that this consultation with the Cree should be done after the project is in operation for the purpose of understanding their points of view on the completion of the project as a whole and its impacts, as well as the effectiveness of the mitigation measures that have been carried out. COMEX favours public hearings as a consultation mechanism as they allow a large audience to be reached and all topics to be addressed. These hearings would be held by COMEX and the proponent would collaborate in their realization. The hearings would be held after construction of the project but before it goes into operation, around 2011. The COMEX report on the lessons to be drawn from these consultations will be used, in part, to implement corrective measures in view of minimizing any residual impact.
COMEX acknowledges that this project will shape and implement the Paix des braves agreement signed in 2002 between the Cree Nation and the Gouvernement du Québec (R5). This project will provide Crees with an opportunity to direct their future development through the creation of jobs and businesses that will contribute to long-term economic development. It is in this spirit that COMEX stresses the future relations between the proponent and Cree society and in building on the opportunities that this project represents, without, however, losing sight of the nature of Cree society or the fact that the latter occupies territory that is shared with Jamésiens who, just as much as they, want this sharing to be permanent and harmonious.
Hydroelectric development has had a tremendous impact on Cree society in the past 30 years and is at the root of the signing of the JBNQA and Cree society’s entry into modern times. The Paix des braves, signed in 2002, is also founded on the territory’s development through hydroelectric power. COMEX, as a JBNQA committee, has been a privileged witness to the debates and tremors that have stirred the Cree society and the adjustment difficulties this society is currently experiencing. With the Eastmain-1-A and Rupert Diversion project, COMEX hopes that this society will enter into a new era that is characterized by the Crees’ desire to take their future into their own hands. In order to do so, they must preserve their attachment to their society’s core values, which have enabled them to survive and grow as a nation, while taking advantage of the opportunities that arise to improve their individual and collective well-being. This balance will only be achieved by maintaining a window on the outside world and positive relationships with Québec society as a whole.
Information on the Eastmain-1-A and Rupert River Diversion Project is available at the James Bay Advisory Committee on the Environment (JBACE) secretariat.