The Innu, a Canadian aboriginal group , has threatened to go to court in an effort to halt the C$6.5B expansion of the Churchill Falls hydroelectric project in Labrador, Canada. On 4 October, Innu chieftain Armand McKenzie told a press conference that if Canada failed to protect the group’s land rights within 60 days, the Innu would file a petition in court to suspend the project and claim their legal rights to the land.

McKenzie complained that for 18 months, the aborigines were not included in the planning or environmental reviews for the project. The Innu also say they were never compensated for the flooding of their burial grounds and other ancestral lands by the Upper Churchill Falls project, constructed 25 years ago.

In August 1999, both Newfoundland and Quebec said plans for the Churchill Falls expansion would be delayed so that aborigines could participate in an environmental impact study. The Innu say they have not been invited yet. Negotiations on the project between Quebec and Newfoundland have been stalled since March 1998, due to aboriginal demands involved in the decision making process.

Officials planning the project have dropped the proposed 1000MW expansion of the existing 5628MW Churchill Falls power house and the plan to divert Quebec’s St Jean river into Churchill Falls. The downsized project includes a 2200MW plant at Gull Island and a diversion of Quebec’s Romaine river. Project officials say much of the estimated 2200MW to be generated could be sold in the northeastern US power market by Hydro-Québec, a utility owned by the Canadian province of Quebec. The rest, some 1000MW, would be sold in Newfoundland and Labrador, possibly to power Inco’s proposed nickel smelter at Voisey’s Bay in Labrador.

Construction could start in 9-12 months if a settlement between the provinces and the natives is reached. Electricity production could begin between 2006 and 2008.