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Elders question Northern Pass partner’s environmental record

Union Leader Correspondent

October 02. 2016 9:38PM
Louis Archambault, a spokesman for Pessamit First Nation elders who came to Plymouth State University on Thursday, warns of Hydro-Qubec’s environmental record. (COURTESY)

PLYMOUTH — For 8,000 years, the Canadian First Nation Pessamit tribe has counted on the salmon in Quebec’s Betsiamites River for food.

But a group of Pessamit elders told a gathering at Plymouth State University on Thursday that Hydro-Québec — partnered with Eversource Energy in the $1.6 billion Northern Pass project — has pursued goals so detrimental to the river that their food source is almost gone.

“There are almost no more salmon in the river,” Louis Archambault, a spokesman for the Pessamit delegation, said before the meeting. “They acted without care, without environmental responsibility.”

Hydro-Québec spokesman Gary Sutherland said the Pessamit elders were “omitting” facts in their presentation.

He said before Hydro-Québec installed its power-generating stations on the river in the 1990s, research was conducted on the salmon populations and rules were established to preserve populations.

“These operating rules were developed with and agreed upon by the Pessamit First Nation,” Sutherland said. “Hydro-Québec is firmly committed to respecting these rules now and in the future.”

The elders came to PSU at the invitation of the Sierra Club, which is opposed to Northern Pass, a transmission line that would begin in Pittsburg and end in Deerfield. The proposal, which is being considered by the state’s Site Evaluation Committee, would bring 1,090 megawatts of hydro-electricity supplied by Hydro-Québec into the New England power grid.

Catherine Corkery, director of the state chapter of the Sierra Club, said Pessamit chiefs Rene Simon and Ghislain Picard came to Plymouth “to share their story and warn us of the destructive past of Hydro-Québec.” The elders brought data, maps and photographs.

“Hydro-Québec and Eversource Energy, the promoters of the Northern Pass, must be held accountable for the injustices forced onto the Pessamit, injustices that will be compounded if the New Hampshire Site Evaluation Committee approves this massive project,” Corkery said. “The Hydro-Québec dams have ended a way of life.”

Sutherland said each of Hydro-Québec’s 63 generating stations is operated “according to stringent operating rules dictating flow variations that are permitted and water levels that must be maintained.”

He also criticized the elders for attending the PSU forum Thursday, which Hydro-Québec was not invited to, and choosing “not to attend environmental hearings on this new transmission interconnection that were held (Wednesday night) in Sherbrooke, Québec.”

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