The Grand Council of the Crees has blasted Hydro-Quebec for its secrecy on dam-safety issues and emergency plans.

“I don’t have any information on dam safety. What are the measures to protect people living downstream from the dams?” asked Bill Namagoose, executive director of the Grand Council.

“How would they get people out of the area? Is there an evacuation plan for Chisasibi? I don’t know of any.”

Namagoose criticized Hydro’s refusal to provide Crees with adequate information on dam security and emergency measures since work started on the dams in the mid-1970s.

“It’s 20 years of neglect. If there was an incident in the Chisasibi area. Hydro would be held for criminal negligence,” he vowed.

As an example of the lack of communication, Namagoose cited a violent Oct. 1983 storm that caused millions of dollars in damage to Hydro’s La Grande dam complex.

Cree officials were never told of the storm and Hydro never disclosed the storm damage to the public. The storm exposed apparent flaws in the construction and design of Hydro’s dams and dikes, according to internal utility reports obtained by The Nation.

Hydro also found that its calculations of how big waves could get in the reservoirs were off, the reports say. The miscalculations caused the utility to underestimate wave size.
“Everybody would be concerned if there was a miscalculation,” said Namagoose. “That is evidence of bad planning. What other defects are there in the system?”

Hydro’s facilities were supposed to be able to handle 100 km/h winds, according to the internal
utility reports. But the Oct 1983 storm, with winds of only 40 to 60 km/h, still caused severe damage. Hydro spent $100 million repairing and strengthening its facilities.

Crees in Chisasibi and other downstream communities started expressing fears about the dams after the devastating 1996 flood disaster in the Saguenay region.

H-Q says it won’t release emergency plans for security reasons and because it doesn’t want to cause a panic. Officials also said the utility has started talking with one community, Chisasibi, about emergency planning.

But Cree legal advisors say H-Q has actually become more secretive in recent years. They say previously public Hydro documents are now stamped secret under the pretext that the documents are commercial secrets, now that competition is being introduced into North America’s energy markets.

It isn’t clear what emergency studies Hydro does have. After an access-to-information request, Hydro sent heavily censored emergency studies that include maps of areas that would be flooded in a dam breach. But the studies are not full emergency plans.

One 1989 study shows a flood of water would reach Chisasibi 2 hours and 14 minutes after a breach at LG-2. The water level at Chisasibi would eventually reach 25 metres above sea level as the reservoir empties. Another 1987 study shows a breach at LG-4 taking out LG-3, LG-2 and LG-1, with an even bigger flood of water hitting Chisasibi. This study was later deemed “unrealistic” and replaced by a 1998 study of a breach starting at LA-2, taking out facilities downriver. No flood maps are included in this later study.