The Innu-Atikamekw-Anishnabeg Coalition – a group of First Nations in Quebec and Labrador – is opposing a proposed Hydro-Quebec transmission corridor, citing ongoing damage to their territories from hydroelectric projects.
The New England Clean Energy Connect (NECEC) would see a 1,200-megawatt transmission line supply electricity from Quebec to Maine and Massachusetts as part of a 20-year deal between Hydro-Quebec and Avangrid, a subsidiary of Spanish energy company Iberdrola.
The $1.2-billion project would require construction of power lines on both sides of the border, as well as finishing Hydro-Québec’s Romaine-4 hydroelectric dam on Quebec’s North Shore by 2022.
The coalition represents the Innu of Pessamit, the Atikamekw of Wemotaci, the Anishnabeg of Pikogan, Lac Simon and Kitcisakik, and the Innu Nation of Labrador. They say that Innu Nation lands have been destroyed by the Churchill Falls hydroelectric project, while First Nations in Quebec have seen dams built and their territories flooded without any prior consultation or compensation.
Lucien Wabanonik, a Lac Simon band councillor and spokesperson for the coalition, says that every option is on the table for the coalition, as it reaches out to media and regulators in both Canada and the US.
Wabanonik says that dams have had a devastating impact on their communities.
“There’s a lot of impact still today. The water goes up or down in the spring because of too much water in the reservoir, and this has an impact on the sturgeon,” Wabanonik explained. “In the wintertime, we travel the land, but we don’t know if the ice is solid enough.”
He says that communities were never compensated for the dams and hydro lines, and many are living in “third-world conditions” without access to water or electricity. “We’re saying this is enough. We want a formal discussion with Hydro-Quebec or the federal or provincial governments to discuss these issues.”
Wabanonik noted the coalition has not talked to either level of government or Hydro-Quebec, but that they anticipate a meeting soon.
Hydro-Quebec spokesperson Lynn St-Laurent said the Quebec crown utility “understands the importance of land claims and territorial issues for Indigenous communities, and that these communities have been engaged in claim disputes with the federal and provincial governments related to facilities that in some cases were built decades ago, some of them predating the creation of Hydro-Quebec.”
St-Laurent added that legal actions on these issues are pending or would be addressed in treaty negotiations.
She noted that Churchill Falls is not a Hydro-Quebec project, though it does own a 34% stake in the company that runs the operation, which saw over 5,000 square kilometres flooded without the agreement of the Innu people.
The NECEC project would not impact these communities, St-Laurent insisted, as the project would draw from the existing power generating system, and that hydroelectric reservoirs would continue to operate at the same levels as before the project.
While construction started in February on the US side of the NECEC, it was stopped a few days later due to a court injunction. Despite receiving a permit from the outgoing Trump administration, the project has been opposed by US environmental groups.