Impact of Hydroelectric Projects

hydro-electricWhen it began operating in 1978, the JBACE strove to ensure that planned hydroelectric projects underwent impact assessment and review. To that end, it recommended that the Evaluating Committee (COMEV) be established as quickly as possible so that it could review the preliminary design study for the NBR project.

Although the La Grande hydroelectric complex was exempt from impact assessment and review under the JBNQA, the JBACE encouraged the Société d’énergie de la Baie James (SEBJ) to establish a rigorous environmental monitoring program. Owing to the importance of fish to the Cree diet and culture, the Committee recommended in 1979 that measures be taken to minimize mercury concentrations in fish caused by the creation of reservoirs. In 1983, the JBACE advised the Ministère de l’Environnement du Québec to adopt an environmental monitoring policy setting environmental standards applicable to the La Grande complex.

In 1985, following the drowning of approximately 10,000 caribou in the Caniapiscau River, whose waters had been partially diverted to the La Grande reservoir, the JBACE called on the Québec government to conduct an interdisciplinary investigation into the incident. Although the government did not act on the Committee’s request, a study was conducted by the Secrétariat aux affaires autochtones (then SAGMAI). The JBACE responded to the study report by recommending that Cree trappers be consulted regarding management and operation of the La Grande complex.

Revival of the Great Whale hydroelectric project in 1990 gave the parties incentive to enter into an agreement on harmonization of the two applicable environmental assessment procedures, i.e. the provincial procedure under Section 22 of the JBNQA and the Federal Environmental Assessment and Review Process (FEARP). The JBACE reminded the governments that the JBNQA provides for the combining of the two review bodies for projects that fall within both federal and Québec jurisdiction. The JBACE offered its collaboration for follow-up and public information for projects of this scale.

Also in 1990, the Provincial Administrator recommended dividing the Great Whale project into four components: the main hydroelectric complex, road infrastructures and two power transmission lines. In the JBACE’s opinion, dividing the project into components would make it impossible to assess the project’s cumulative impacts.

In 1992, COMEV issued draft directives for the environmental impact statement for the Great Whale project. In its comments on the directives, the JBACE stressed the importance of describing each design option and the direct link between their environmental and social impacts for the Crees. 

In the meantime, the government launched public hearings on Québec’s energy policy. The JBACE submitted a brief, in which it underlined the adverse effects that advancing the construction schedule for large-scale projects has on the quality of environmental assessment. The Committee proposed that a policy on river diversion and integrated watershed management be developed.

When construction of Eastmain 1 began in 2002, the JBACE called on the Ministère de l’Environnement to allocate sufficient resources to environmental monitoring and follow-up. Soon after, the Committee met with SEBJ representatives to discuss the matter, and the latter presented the preliminary design study for the Eastmain 1-A powerhouse/Rupert diversion project. The consultations on this major project lasted from 2003 to 2006. Afterwards, the project-related documents were transferred from the Public Information Office to the JBACE secretariat. 

> *  Hydroelectric project involving the Nottaway, Broadback and Rupert rivers: this project was put on ice in 1985 then subsequently abandoned under the “Peace of the Brave” agreement (2002).

 **  Hydro-Québec subsidiary responsible for hydroelectric projects in the James Bay Territory.

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