Hydro-Quebec is planning to make major cuts to the number of inspectors making sure the dams in the North are safe, says one of the utility’s largest unions.

“The less it’s inspected, the less it’s secure. That’s the opinion of everyone who works there,” said Jacques Rodier, vice-president of the 6,000-member Union of Professional and Office Workers.

Hydro is planning a sweeping round of cutbacks in all areas of the utility, and inspectors will not be immune, said Rodier. He said nothing is known for sure about what cutbacks will be made, but the rumours are flying.

The news comes as residents of the Cree communities near the hydro dams have expressed worries about the safety of the dams, especially following last year’s floods in the Saguenay.

Rodier believes it will be a “major cut-30, 40, 50 per cent-we don’t know.”

Rodier, who himself is an inspector at LG-2, says the health of the dams is good at the moment. “What would imperil the dams would be to cut the number of inspections.”

Floy McBride?

No one in the Chisasibi police has ever heard of Floy McBride, but that is the Native contact person Hydro-Quebec will call in case of emergency at LG-2.

Floy McBride of the Police Amérindienne is listed on an emergency phone list used by Hydro-Quebec in the La Grande region. We got the list after an Access request.

A Chisasibi police officer said the Amerindian Police hasn’t been in Chisasibi for 20 years! The officer had also never heard of a Floy McBride.

Is anyone else an emergency contact with Hydro-Quebec? “Not that I know of,” the officer said.

Dams safe: HQ

The dams are a-okay, says Hydro-Quebec. Gerard Varzeni, Director of Dam Security, said problems with water pressure, the rock dykes and cracks in the dams are all minor and nothing to get excited about.

Some 300,000 tonnes of rock had to be added to the dykes in the North after deterioration caused by higher-than-expected wave action stimulated by strong winds.

“Enormous waves are attacking the dykes,” said Varzeni. “With the action of the waves, there is a certain destabilization that occurs. We had to redo the dykes because they were not high enough. Some of the rocks were knocked around.”

The problem was solved after $30 million was spent strengthening the dykes.

Problems with water pressure reported in a previous issue of The Nation are also on their way to being solved and are not serious, he said. The higher-than-expected water pressure is still well within Hydro’s allowable limits, he said.

Varzeni added that cracks described in an internal Hydro report are all along roads on the crests of the dykes and are above the water. They are a few inches wide and caused by the intense cold.

The dams may be safe, said Cree officials, but it’s clear Hydro didn’t have all the answers. Hydro should give Crees information on security, safety and emergency planning issues to reassure residents. “The flow of information is always a concern for our people,” said Chief Charles Bobbish. “We don’t want to live in danger, always thinking something like this (an emergency) will come up.”