Residents demand review as fears grow over Muskrat Falls dam – Newfoundland & Labrador

A nagging dread is keeping Craig Chaulk up at night.

He lives downstream from the $12.7-billion Muskrat Falls hydroelectric development in Labrador. He’s among many residents concerned that a crucial part of the dam, a jut of sand and clay called the North Spur, could give way.

“My biggest fear is that the project will go to completion, the reservoir will be filled to 39 metres as they’re proposing, the North Spur will fail and this little community that I live in will be wiped right off the face of this Earth,” Chaulk said from his home in Mud Lake.

An aerial photo shows flooding in one area of Mud Lake, near Happy Valley-Goose Bay. The community had to be evacuated in May. (Donald Edmunds)

The 200-year-old community of about 70 people has already faced the worst spring flooding anyone there can remember. Chaulk and dozens of other residents were airlifted to safety May 17 as water levels swiftly rose after ice jammed where the lower Churchill River meets Lake Melville.

‘I’ve laid awake in my bed for so many nights trying to think of a way to make people understand the threat we’re facing.’
– Craig Chaulk

Crown corporation Nalcor Energy, which is responsible for Muskrat Falls, has denied it did anything to swamp almost 50 homes and structures. It blamed the incident on spring run-off. The flood is now under independent review.

Chaulk said that experience has shaken his confidence in the development — especially as questions persist about the North Spur.

North Spur a weak link?

It’s a natural dam of clay and sand that will form a critical part of the Muskrat Falls project to harness hydro power near Happy Valley-Goose Bay. Landslides have happened in that area before.

Chaulk takes no comfort from Nalcor’s public assurances that the North Spur has been stabilized, protected and reinforced using proven engineering methods endorsed by third parties.

About 15 demonstrators outside the Nalcor Energy offices in St. John’s on July 8, calling for an audit of the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project. (Andrew Sampson/CBC)

He’s among increasingly vocal skeptics who say it’s a weak link in the megaproject’s design that, like the Mud Lake flood, should be independently reviewed.

Those skeptics include David Vardy, a former chairman of the provincial Public Utilities Board, who served as a senior public servant for almost 30 years. He believes there’s a lack of geotechnical evidence that potentially sensitive clays underlying…

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