The provinces of Quebec and Newfoundland in Canada have delayed negotiations on the C$10B Churchill Falls hydro project in Labrador, to accommodate aboriginal group participation in the environmental impact study.

Negotiations on the project, between the two provinces, have been stalled since March 1998 due to aboriginal demands to be involved in the decision-making process.

The Innu group in Quebec and the Newfoundland region of Labrador have vowed to launch an international campaign and to take legal action to stop the project from going ahead without their approval. The aboriginals are native Indians made up of four groups — the Montagnais, Naskapi and Atikamekw of north- eastern Quebec and a group in Labrador that calls itself Innu.

The environmental impact on Native lands, specifically the flooding of large areas, has enraged the Innu, who say they were never compensated for the flooding of their ancestral lands by the original project in the early 1970s.

Officials planning the project have also deleted the proposed 1000MW expansion of the existing 5628MW Churchill Falls powerhouse and plans to divert Quebec’s St Jean river into Churchill Falls.

The downsized project, includes a 2200 MW 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-Quebec, a utility owned by the province of Quebec. The rest, some 1000MW, would be sold in Newfoundland and Labrador, possibly in part to power a proposed smelter for Inco Ltd’s nickel smelter at Voisey’s Bay in Labrador.

Construction could start about 9-12 months after a settlement between the provinces and the natives. Electricity production could begin between 2006 and 2008.