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The buck stops where?


I’d love to play a game of “name that person.”  Maybe if I could find out the name, or names, of those responsible for making and signing off on some of the decisions made on a number of aspects of Muskrat Falls I could get a better understanding of the process used. They must have had their reasons for what has transpired so far and then I, and other tax-paying residents, of this province could get some explanations of how we got where we are.

What is the name of the person who ultimately decided that the contract for a mega-project worth billions should be based on an hourly rate and not a set contract price with some provisions for cost overruns? I’m pretty sure that in the history of mega-project contracts, this is a first. Even with a house renovation people want a quote. You would never just pay a contractor by the hour and hope the project ends up costing what you budgeted. It’s pretty obvious to most people that a pay-by-the-hour contract, especially one of this magnitude, would be too susceptible to abuse.

Who was the engineer who decided the North Spur was stable enough to hold a dam the size of Muskrat Falls and what were their qualifications? I’m no engineer or geologist, and have minimal understanding of such things, but all the ones I’ve spoken to say it’s unstable. It’s not a matter of if, but when, this North Spur will give way. Whose name should be attached to that potential disaster?

Another name I would love to have is the name of the scientist/environmentalist who signed off on not stripping all the vegetation from the area to be flooded. Did they have the proper credentials to make such a decision? It is a scientific fact, and not some alternative fact, that submerged vegetation breaks down and produces methyl mercury. It is what it is. Well-respected and accredited scientists have tried to point this out to those who say the removal of this vegetation is not necessary. “We will monitor the methyl mercury levels” is their response but this is not an answer. Yes they can monitor but again not ‘if but when’ the levels reach a level of toxicity that the food chain is affected, there is not much can be done at that point. The environmental damage is done. No wonder indigenous Labradorians are angry at such an impending disruption of their right to live off the land. With the lack of consideration given to many of their rights is it no wonder there are such passionate protests?

Then there’s the name of the economist/accountant who figured out that a population of half a million would have the means to pay down a multibillion-dollar debt. Talk about being overextended! It would be a little more understandable if we were forging ahead with the Muskrat Falls project in order to lower or at the very least maintain our already high electricity rates in NL. Who was the person who crunched the numbers on this and decided it made economic sense that this project must be completed in order to double our electricity rates but sell cheaper to Nova Scotia? I just want an explanation so maybe I can better understand the intricacies of such decision-making. I can’t help but have the words, Churchill Falls, come to mind.

Maybe if I had these names and could talk to these experts they could explain to me why these decisions were sound and in the best interests of the people of Newfoundland and Labrador. It’s obvious to me that I must be missing something here and I would love to understand their reasons why.

Why is it our governments, past and present, set so much store in mega-projects? They always seem to feel bigger is better even in the face of some of the mega failures we have had in the past. Small businesses are known to be the economic engine of our country. It doesn’t take much to extrapolate that smaller power projects might be more cost effective and have a higher success rate.

We are a province blessed with much water. If government were so determined to have hydroelectric power would not smaller hydroelectric projects located near areas of need that could provide a stable source of electricity at a fraction of the cost/debt load of Muskrat Falls make more sense? These smaller hydro projects would also provide stable well paying jobs in the towns and communities they served. There would have been no need for the expense of a cable and transmission line that costs a fortune to install and, even more concerning, to maintain.

Because of our fiscal situation we are seeing necessary government programs being cut and the cost of living in our beloved province being increased to the point that residents are being driven out. They can’t afford to stay. Soon there will be even less people here to pay off this staggering debt. I know I have a lot of questions but I would love to have some answers as to who exactly are these people who made these choices on our behalf.  Maybe if I know where the buck stops and that there is someone who will accept liability if their decisions are proven to have been wrong (so very wrong) I won’t feel such a sense of foreboding.

Then again, maybe there really is a rat in Muskrat Falls!

Dr. Marina Sexton lives in Norris Point and is a member of The Western Star's Community Editorial Board

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