The session held in Corner Brook was the first of three scheduled for the west coast region of Newfoundland and Labrador this week. There are membership forums planned in St. George's tonight and Burgeo Wednesday. More than 20 people attended in Corner Brook.
It was a closed session to the public, but Ralph Eldridge, manager of community economic development with Qalipu, said the session generated a fair bit of discussion after information was passed on to the members who attended.
Eldridge said the First Nation band expects to provide feedback to the environmental assessment report on the hydroelectric and Maritime Link projects submitted by Emera Newfoundland and Labrador. He said it is not likely the band will provide outright support or opposition to the projects, but will present an overview of the comments and opinions gathered from its membership.
To gauge its membership, the band began with outlining the information gathered through discussions with Emera officials pertaining to proposed economic and employment opportunities.
Eldridge said the group is hearing there will be more employment opportunities with this project than there are currently available workers in this province, especially in terms of electricians and other construction trades.
"We are working with the company to see what opportunities there might be for our trained membership to get direct employment opportunities with the company," he said. "In addition to that, what opportunities there might be for training of our members to participate in opportunities that might develop over the next three or four years during the construction phase."
Then the membership was presented with an overlay of the band's traditional-use study map with Emera's proposed transmission route. The band's map identifies areas in western Newfoundland such as fish and wildlife habitat, forest resources, berrypicking areas, and ceremonial sites.
"There were certainly areas of concern, environmentally, but most of those are captured within the environmental assessment report that the company has filed," Eldridge said. "Most of those concerns have been addressed."
He said there are still some gaps that need to be addressed, and he said there are also some gaps in their own study that have to be completed along the Burgeo Highway.
"There were certainly a lot of questions around the project itself, in terms of encroachment areas and the path that the transmission line will take," he said. "But, a lot of the questions centred around employment opportunities and how people can avail of those opportunities."
Outside of contributed to the environmental assessment process, Eldridge said band officials will continue to meet with Emera to discuss and gather information on the employment and business opportunities that exist. He said there are a number of meetings scheduled for April, which are expected to last through the coming months.