Inukjuak residents vote overwhelmingly for hydro plant
"It’s a clear mandate to go ahead.”
People in Inukjuak have voted strongly in favour of constructing a hydroelectric plant to power their community.
During the referendum held March 23, 24 and 25, 83 per cent of those who cast ballots said yes to moving ahead to the construction phase of the small dam and reservoir on the Inukjuak River.
The $67.5-million hydro plant, dubbed Innavik, would generate about 7.5 megawatts of electricity.
On Monday, Pituvik Landholding Corporation president Eric Atagotaaluk went on the local FM radio station to announce the referendum’s results.
“It’s a clear mandate to go ahead with this project,” he told Nunatsiaq News. “I was expecting a closer result between the yes and no.
“I was pleasantly surprised.”
In the weeks leading up to the vote, the community entered into debate over Innavik, with proponents saying it will create jobs in a community with the highest unemployment rate in Nunavik.
Innavik will create 20-30 jobs for local Inuit during the construction phase, Atagotaaluk said.
Opponents say they’re concerned about how the dam will impact water quality.
A feasibility study prepared in 2009 showed Innavik would be able to meet the electricity and heating needs of Inukjuak, population 1,200, for at least 20 years.
That same study made clear that the plant’s environmental impact would be minimal, Atagotaaluk said. The landholding corporation used examples of similar projects in Greenland and British Columbia to emphasize that.
But the overall number of ballots cast in the referendum fell just shy of the 75 per cent that project leaders said was required to give the project the green light.
Only 71.6 per cent of eligible voters cast a ballot in last week’s referendum – 32 ballots short of the target.
“It was just a standard we set ourselves,” Atagotaaluk said. “We wanted a good turnout of the community.
“But we thought it was close enough.”
A referendum of this kind typically calls for 50 per cent plus one.
Project leaders will now have to secure funding to move ahead with construction, likely to come from the landholding, Makivik Corp., joint-venturing and federal government funds.
Putivik will also finalize a power purchase agreement with Hydro-Quebec, which will remain Inukjuak’s utility provider by purchasing electricity from the plant once in operation.
Construction of an access road to the plant site, about 10 kilometres outside of town, should begin this summer. The construction of the actual dam and reservoir should begin in 2011, Atagotaaluk said.
As the project takes shape, Atagotaaluk hopes Inukjuak’s neighbours will see the potential to find local and sustainable energy sources.
“We’ve received a lot of feedback on this project since we started,” he said. “I think it will help other communities see that they can do something as well with renewable energy.”