The Comité d’examen (COMEX) has opened the gate for the EM IA Rupert River Diversion in a ruling that classes it a viable project that will stimulate economic growth in the north. Quebec approved the report the same day, November 24.

“It was a unanimous recommendation from the five members of the review committee,” said Daniel Berrouard, a biologist and one of the Quebec representatives on the COMEX board. “When we consider all the mitigation measures and the monitoring program for the project, that’s why we considered it to be an acceptable project.”

The new project will see Hydro Québec adding 900 megawatts to what is already the largest hydroelectric complex in the world. Hydro’s current operations, built around the damming of the La Grande River, have nine generating stations totaling over 16,000 megawatts.

COMEX has two Cree representatives on the board. They examined the environmental, social and economic impacts the diversion would have on the Crees and their traditional hunting and trapping way of life.

Consultations on the project took place in Montreal and all over Eeyou Istchee. Many people, including former Grand Chief Ted Moses and current Deputy Grand Chief Ashley Iserhoff spoke about the impacts, both negative and positive that the mammoth undertaking would have on their people.

COMEX’s 488-page report cited a reduction in the Rupert River’s flow from between 51 per cent to 71 per cent. It also talked about the economic benefits the project would bring to the Crees.

“COMEX understands that this project, which will require over $4 billion in investments, represents a significant economic generator, and in some cases, will stimulate regions experiencing slowdowns in other natural resource development sectors,” read the report.

EM I-A is slated to be ready for operation by 2011.

COMEX gave Hydro Québec 97 directives to fix before going ahead with the project.

They are also awaiting the Federal Review Board’s report, due out by the end of the month, to secure the necessary transportation and fisheries permits to carry out the work.

The three communities that will be the most affected by the project, Nemaska, Waskaganish and Chisasibi, held referenda November 28 to allow members to express their support or opposition to the project. The results were not available at press time.

The chiefs of the three communities claim that the EM IA Rupert River Diversion was never a part of the 2002 Paix des Braves Agreement, signed between Quebec and the Crees. They are upset that they weren’t consulted directly on the issue.

They brought the matter to their respective council boards and had their people go to the polls on November 28.

The agreement brought jobs and $70 million a year to the people of Eeyou Istchee, but also created a divide in the communities. It is unclear what affect a vote against the diversion might have.

“When we consider all the mitigation measures and the monitoring program for the project, that’s why we considered it to be an acceptable project.”— COMEX