Hydro-Quebec’s offer of Cree co-ownership of the 1,280-megawatt Eastmain-Rupert hydro project was met with skepticism and suspicion in Mistissini and Waskaganish.

Hydro’s top brass, including chairman André Caillé, spent the afternoon of Thurs., Sept. 10, in Mistissini answering questions and selling the proposed new project, with its pricetag of $2.2-$3 billion.

The reaction was mixed among the 120-odd audience members, said Kenny Loon, Mistissini’s recently elected chief. “Some seemed to support it if we get compensation,” he said. “Then there are the tallymen directly affected. They seem to be opposed. They had a lot of questions.” Community members asked Hydro’s officials to return in a few months to answer more questions. Many residents “felt rushed” as they were getting ready to go in the bush to hunt moose.

But Loon said Hydro’s new policy of involving First Nations in hydro projects was welcome in Mistissini. “People kept thanking Hydro-Quebec for showing respect by coming and consulting them. People were happy with the approach Hydro-Quebec was taking, but at the same time they were suspicious.”

As for Waskaganish, our informant put the number in the audience at “50 to 100.” The session lasted all afternoon and a couple of hours that night. (The Hydro execs didn’t spend the night in town.)

During the question period, trappers had a lot of questions about impacts on the landand the Rupert River, which flows past Waskaganish

Our source reported that the Hydro officials weren’t able to answer all the questions posed.

Chief Billy Diamond of Waskaganish did not return our call.

The two meetings followed two earlier Hydro visits to Eastmain and Nemaska.

Thierry Vandal, Hydro’s vice-president of strategic planning and business development, said Crees are being invited to invest their own money in the project, in exchange for a cut of the profits, which he wouldn’t estimate. However, he did estimate revenues of $ 150-$ 180 million a year.

Asked to define the partnership being proposed, he said, “Co-ownership means co-deciders, everything, co-investors… There’s quite a bit of opportunity for this investment.”

Under Hydro’s plan, a 68-metre-high dam would be built on the Eastmain River north of Nemaska, creating a 624-square-kilometre reservoir. Dozens of dikes would be built, along with over 260 km of roads.

The Rupert River would be blocked off at either KM 314 or KM 490, depending on which (if any) variation of the project is favoured. Ninety per cent of the river’s flow would be diverted northward into the Eastmain reservoir to put more water into Hydro’s turbines, Vandal said.

At the Rupert’s mouth, where Waskaganish is located, the river’s flow would be reduced by two-thirds (under the KM 314 scenario) or half (under the less-destructive KM 490 scenario).

“We want to do something on a basis that would be acceptable to the Cree Nations,”Vandal said, noting that

details of the project remain open to discussion and change.