APTN National News
A long-time resident and community leader in Mud Lake is skeptical that the Newfoundland and Labrador premier will follow through on promises to investigate a recent flood.
“I’m afraid to trust…they said they’re committed to finding out what happened,” said Melissa Best, after a meeting with government officials. “But it’s just words. And even though he said it publicly, it’s still just words.”
On May 17, over 50 residents were forced to flee after the rising waters of the Lower Churchill River flooded the small village of Mud Lake – a small community downstream from the Nalcor Energy’s massive hydro-project
at Muskrat Falls.
This is the first year that the dam’s reservoir has been filled with water. While critics of the project are drawing a line between Muskrat falls and the flood at Mud Lake, the provincially-owned corporation has pointed the finger at the spring thaw and ice jams.
Best has lived in the community for thirty years.
“In the history of Mud Lake, which is close to 200 years old, we’ve never had this happen,” he said. “We’ve had floods, but nothing of this magnitude. People are just blown away by the way the water came in there that night. It was dreary and dark, wet and snowy, but I’ll never stop seeing the ice coming in through the channel.”
Premier Dwight Ball flew in by helicopter to tour Mud Lake on Monday. Best, along with other residents, accompanied the premier.
“That was a joke,” said Best, calling the tour a photo op. “Because he left me with such a sincere feeling that he cared and that this was priority one. When I walked through the community and I saw these places and I smelled the smells and heard the sounds and I really, really felt he had too, that he understood. Now I’m thinking it was a publicity stunt.”
Best’s optimism from the initial tour with the premier began to unravel at a meeting later in the day.
“We have legitimate concerns about the Muskrat Falls project,” said Best. “But you could feel the frustrations. They were tiptoeing around the answers. And it’s not good. I can’t help but feel betrayed already.”
Best wanted a guarantee that this type of severe flooding won’t happen again. But she didn’t feel that Ball had a definitive answer for community members.
“He said, ‘well, we’re going to find out what happened.’ And then he said, ‘I’m not protecting Nalcor,’” recounted Best. “He’s the one who brought Nalcor into it. We don’t care. Protect the people!”
Over the weekend, Best was among dozens of people who rallied against Muskrat Falls.
In an emotional video posted on Facebook, Best paced in between the open gates to the Muskrat Falls site, waving her Labrador Flag, in spite of a court injunction Nalcor has had in place since last fall to keep
land protectors away from the site.
“We can’t go home… we’ve got a school we can’t put children in. We’ve got houses just floating and tipping over and they’re worried I’m on their goddamn land,” said Best in the video. “They want to take me to jail?
At least I’ll have a roof over my head.”
Best is also the representative for Mud Lake on the Muskrat Falls liaison committee.
“At first, I trusted the Nalcor project because I called them,” said Best. “I asked them if the floodgates open, they said no the flood gates were not open.”
In a public advisory two days after the flood, Nalcor Energy said that it’s maintaining water levels inside the dam at 21.5 metres and that its operations have no impact on the water levels of the river.
“This is a normal part of spillway operations,” Nalcor explained it its advisory. “Picture a kitchen sink filled with water. If you add water, you will need to open the drain to let some water out to keep your desired level.”
Best said it took too long for Nalcor representatives to meet with community members. It finally happened on Sunday.
“They sat down with a few members of the community and they heard us, they seen and felt our raw emotion,” said Best. “I walked away feeling confident. They didn’t accept responsibility but they didn’t deny
But now Best is doubting Nalcor’s explanation. “To maintain 21.5 metre flow in behind the falls, behind the cofferdam; where’s that excess water going?”
Many, including the mayor of Happy Valley-Goose Bay Jamie Snook are calling for an independent investigation.
In a public statement, Snook asked “that a percentage of the billions of taxpayers dollars going into Muskrat Falls be reinvested in Mud Lake and Happy Valley-Goose Bay for the impacts we have experienced.
What has happened this past week is unacceptable, and the impact it is having on Mud Lake and in our community can never be undone.”
The Newfoundland and Labrador Government is offering financial aid for people who’ve been displaced from their homes. Coordinated relief efforts are ongoing, and NL Hydro has begun the work of restoring power.
Best said her house is on high ground and the damage is minimal, while others have water stains on their walls a few feet high. She said her sister’s house is unliveable.
But Best insists the community will rebuild.
“Prove to us that it’s not Muskrat Falls. If it is, then I expect full compensation for everything, and if not, I apologize,” said Best.
Best said the past week has been frustrating and emotional. She said the community is determined and working together to figure out their next steps.
As the volunteer chairperson of the Mud Lake committee, she’s trying to keep an open mind and open lines of communication with officials. But admits, it’s not easy.
“I trusted the government going into last night’s meeting. I have heard from Nalcor just touching base and making sure we’re on the same page,” said Best. “I don’t know, I’m just skeptical about the whole process.
This is our worst nightmare.”