Tensions are mounting on a small peninsula on the west coast of Newfoundland. Dozens of residents of Mainland, on Newfoundland and Labrador’s Port au Port Peninsula, the majority of whom are French-speaking Mi’kmaq, are blocking a main road utilized by a multi-billion-dollar windmill company.
The blockaders say World Energy GH2, which is developing a major wind farm, is contaminating their water supply.
“A lot of us are stressed to death. We’re scared,” local resident Amanda Cornect told Ricochet in a telephone interview.
Cornect and several of her friends, all of whom are older adults, have been enduring the winter elements to maintain the blockade day and night. They say they are Mi’kmaw grandmothers (Nukumi) and mothers (giju) land and water defenders.
“We’re gonna have to leave our home. We can’t live here. It’s gonna kill all the lobster eggs, everything. It's gonna kill and poison us. And it's going to poison the ocean and the land,” Cornect said.
The community says it was not thoroughly consulted on the project, which would see 164 wind turbines built on a small peninsula roughly the size of St. John’s.
The group of about 10 has now set up two blockades on access roads leading to a wind power test site built by the company. Crown land near Mainland has been identified as the site of a future meteorological evaluation tower to collect data to verify the feasibility of the wind farm development.
But residents living near LeCointre’s Brook, the community's subsidiary water supply, have seen water quality deteriorate since construction of the road began. Videos and photos posted to social media show water running into ditches beside the road, leading to the nearby brook. Cornect started seeing the water turn muddy in December.
“That’s been all running down [into] our water supply,” said Cornect.
On Dec. 5, she noticed that the company had put up black barriers intended to stop the water flow. “Well, that’s not working, that won't stop it,” she said.
She describes Port au Port as beautiful and peaceful. The Benoit First Nation member says she’s always been there and can trace her lineage back multiple generations. She hasn’t witnessed an uproar like this in her lifetime.
She says the Mainland residents will soon run out of water from their main source, Caribou Brook, which dries up multiple times a year. And they won’t be able to rely on water from LeCointre’s Brook, which is terrifying, she says.
“When our water supply runs dry, which is usually in January, we gotta turn on our other meter, but we can't because it'll ruin our pump because of all the dirt. We can’t drink that.”
Cornect’s brother, Dwight Cornect, hasn’t been on the frontlines. But he too is sounding the alarm on the rapid water degradation.
Dwight was elected to Mainland’s Local Service District (LSD) committee in 2009. He says the province of Newfoundland and Labrador failed to designate LeCointre’s Brook a protected watershed decades ago, adding that the LSD committee was “blindsided” when they learned LeCointre’s Brook was not a designated protected watershed.
Dwight points out that the province funded a pump house near the mouth of the brook in the late 1990s. The pump feeds water into the main reservoir when the levels are low.
“World Energy GH2 claims that the LeCointre’s Brook is not part of our water supply,” he told Ricochet.
“But World Energy has accessed its information from the government of Newfoundland and Labrador online portal. It’s not registered or deemed as a public water supply there,” Dwight said. “The government of Newfoundland has made a major omission. They have exercised a lack of due diligence by not having it declared as a public water supply.”
The LSD sent an emergency Stopping Order request to provincial environment and climate change minister Bernard Davis on December 16, under section 39 of Newfoundland and Labrador’s Water Resources Act.
A test, conducted by the government of Newfoundland and Labrador, showed the LeCointre’s Brook water fell short of the aesthetic objectives established in the Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality for colour and turbidity (a measure of the relative clarity or cloudiness of water).
The province advised residents not to pump water from LeCointre’s Brook into the main reservoir.
The letter LSD committee sent requesting the Stopping Order reads in part, “The construction project underway in Mainland by World Energy GH2, Marine Contractors Inc. and ADC Company have put our water supply system in harm’s way. Our surface water supply was contaminated and is at further risk, due to the extensive road construction and ditching inside a large area of our Protected Water Supply Area.
“Our water infrastructure is under duress and further risk as our water pipes are being driven over repeatedly with heavy equipment, on the construction site on Local Road.”
The letter explains that the weight of the trucks on Islandview Road, the community’s main road, is crushing the roadbed, which also contains water infrastructure. “The companies have been driving heavy equipment over our water lines, and in protected areas since the construction began in the fall.
“There are significant water flow issues in the town now, and the construction yard, farther up Local Road, contains a refueling centre, equipment and machinery storage, and diesel generators and has water flowing by this site. This is also in our Protected Water Supply Area.”
It states that the companies involved “failed to respond adequately,” and instead “refer to the water issues as stormwater run-off.”
World Energy GH2 told the LSD that they had “plans for late-January for further community consultation and information sessions. Those sessions will provide opportunities for individuals and community groups to ask questions and share concerns.”
Those sessions never materialized.
The letter also alleges that the companies involved are in non-compliance with numerous required regulations. “We can confirm through site visits, historic documents, photographs, and tests, that our quality of water is impaired for both pumping and sanitation purposes, and that the construction activities have caused these problems.”
Dwight said the Stopping Order request was denied. So, in response, the LSD put a gate up at the entrance to the wind power test site a couple of weeks ago.
As of last week, the LSD has not heard from the provincial government. And its interactions with World Energy are even more fraught.
The company has not communicated with the community in good faith, he said. The few meetings that have taken place have been controlled and not open to the public at large.
The project is slated as “Canada’s first large-scale green hydrogen facility.” World Energy launched the project last summer and committed to investing $12 billion into Newfoundland and Labrador. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was on hand in the nearby town of Stephenville in August with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz to sign a historic accord on the project.
In a bid to help reduce global emissions, the massive development aims to produce green hydrogen power to sell to world markets. Germany is the first customer, to help the country displace its reliance on Russian fossil fuels.
Cornect points out that the energy produced will not benefit the local community. “You know, the residents here, we get nothing. It’s all going to Germany and our water is being ruined,” she said.
The wind energy company declined Ricochet’s request for an interview.
In a statement provided by marketing and stakeholder relations officer Laura Barron the company said the blockade has delayed the project for days, which has come at a cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars. “The ‘No Windmills’ group aims to stop the project, and to stop the green energy industry from developing in the province.”
World Energy explains that LeCointre’s Brook is not a registered back-up water supply for Mainland.
“It has not been subject to the monitoring and testing required of a water supply.”
The statement goes on to say that the company is “carefully” following provincial guidelines in relation to operating near bodies of water.
To help prevent stormwater runoff from contributing to turbidity in the brook, Barron states that the company “put best management practices in place, including mitigations such as silt fencing and check dams, surrounding the access road. We have also asked a third-party engineering consultant to assess the mitigations and recommend improvements.”
“We are committed to being a good community partner and to bringing tangible benefits to the area.”
In a statement, the Crown lands division of the Department of Fisheries, Forestry and Agriculture, states that samples were taken from LeCointre’s Brook on Nov. 2 to test water quality. The test “indicated that turbidity and colour were elevated, but no other water quality concerns were identified.”
The department states that it is communicating with the LSD regarding the protection of the watershed and testing. But the LSD says they’re in the dark.
“What I see is brown, muddy water. The water is not drinkable,” Dwight said. “The local service district of Mainland has actually been advised not to use our pump. And we’ve been waiting to hear back from them (province).”
Meanwhile, Benoit First Nation Chief Jason Benwah has been watching the blockades closely. He said he agrees the water situation needs to be remediated. But he’s not sure that the people on the frontlines will be open to it. Many of them are members of Benoit.
“There seems to be an impasse because they (blockaders) know World Energy has a contractor. They're doing their work and the contractor can't get access cause they put an illegal gate there,” he said. “So, they wanna correct it, but the protestors don’t want to hear a resolution.
“If they send somebody up to tell these guys, listen, this is what the solutions are. And explain it to them what you can do, and let's fix this. Right. But you have to have people on both sides that want to talk.”
The chief says he’s been subject to verbal assaults and threats since he voiced support for the project months ago. He’s leery about visiting the blockade site due to potential backlash. The windmill development is good for the land, he says. Because the area has been “raped and gutted.”
“We don't have any hunting. We don't have any treaty. It's a free-for-all. People go up, we get wood permits and they go up and they cut wood. They build trails and they're hauling their garbage up there. There are fridges and stoves and there are cabins all over the place.”
He was happy when World Energy came knocking because he believes the company will leave the area in a better state than it is.
“If we take into consideration a reasonable, acceptable balance for the ecosystem,” he said, “and monetary support from the program for the communities.
“They’ve (World Energy) agreed to plant wilds along the roads. They’re not gonna restrict any access to anybody. They were gonna pick up all the garbage. We want them to partner with us to be the guardians. I would like to see it restored. And I wanna see it protected.”
For her part, Sheila Hinks, a life-long Port au Port resident, fisherwoman and member of Benoit First Nation, disagrees.
Hinks, who is likely one of 1,057 residents that participated in an informal poll, which showed that a majority of Port au Port communities were against the project, said she was shocked when she saw the condition of the water flowing into LeCointre’s Brook and wants nothing to do with the windmill project.
“For us it just came out of the blue, like what’s going on here?” she said. “I’m scared to have a shower with it because I don’t know what’s coming.”
Hinks has been taking shifts on the frontlines of the blockades and is determined to shut the windmill project down.
“We're older. We’re all over our fifties and we're strong,” she says.
“We’re fighting. Because I mean, this is for our kids. This is for our grandkids. You know, we can’t let our government do this to us.”