Making sure out of sight is not out of mind is part of our job.

Most of us flip a switch and expect a light to come on or a computer to come to life or a washing machine to start agitating. How many of us stop to think about how our energy is generated?

We didn’t give it much thought — except in a general sense: We were for clean energy that wouldn’t further climate change and the resulting disasters.

Then we started researching Hydro-Québec because of a resolution passed last week by the Guilderland Town Board that will allow cables to run underground, mostly along rail lines in town, carrying electricity from Canada to the New York City area.

Guilderland is not alone in granting this approval. “Every municipality asked to sign off on a resolution has adopted it,” said Guilderland Supervisor Peter Barber who supports the project.

Most of us tend to trust the government entities that are meant to protect our environment and to ensure such large projects — this one will cost $3 billion and is supposed to last at least 40 years — are for the common good.

We came across a short film on the website for the North American Megadam Resistance Alliance made by Teagan Wright of Maine, featuring members from the Innu, Inuit, and Pimicikamak lands in Canada who are suffering from the destruction caused by Canadian megadams.

These indigineous people visited the former site of the Edwards Dam in Augusta, Maine. The dam has been taken down, and Steve Brooke, a conservationist, says in the film that fish that had been blocked from the ocean, which need to travel to fresh water to reproduce, have returned. The Atlantic sturgeon, the American shad, the blueback herring, and the alewife are back.

Carlton Richards, a traditional hunter and trapper from Pimicikamak Cree Territory stands by the restored river with tobacco in his hand. “I am offering tobacco to the river, asking for forgiveness that they did not know that they were doing to the river,” he says.

A young man, Richards stands next to an old man, Pimicikamak Tommy Monias, as he says words in his native tongue and the tobacco is released into the river.

Pimicikamak Rita Monias cries as she says, “I lived in a very pristine area … My granddaughter will not ever see that.”

The indigenous people call the power that is generated from the dams that have been built on their ancestral lands “blood megawatts.” One of those complexes, run by Hydro-Québec, is what will supply energy, running through Guilderland, to New York City.

Methylmercury, which occurs naturally in organic materials, builds up in the massive reservoirs created by the dams and enters into the food chain so that hunting and trapping as well as fishing are no longer healthy for people who depend on those sources of food.

“Already people in our community have a higher level of methylmercury,” says Amy Norman, Nunatsiarummiuk of Labrador, in the film.

We spoke to John Gonzalez, a Taíno/Pimicikamak journalist, author, and filmmaker, for this week’s Enterprise podcast. He said the large dams and reservoirs harm not just the food source for indigenous people but their culture and way of life.

For example, waterways have traditionally been the means of transportation and connecting communities. Now, aside from being blocked for travel — both for people and fish — the rivers freeze in the winter in such a way that snowmobiles can fall through.

Kids swimming in the water “come out with rashes and boils and this is a terrible thing because these are already impoverished communities,” he said. Gonzalez likened Canada to a giant battery, charging the United States. He described the poverty and depression in many indigenous communities, worsened with disruption caused by the dams.

Gonzalez cited the United Nations Declaration on the rights of Indigenous Peoples, adopted in 2007. The declaration provides a framework of minimum standards for the survival, dignity, and well-being of the indigenous peoples of the world as well as outlining human rights and fundamental freedoms.

Gonzalez was one of the protesters at Standing Rock, a grassroots movement that began in 2016 after a pipeline was approved to run from western North Dakota to southern Illinois. Protesters saw the project as a threat to ancient burial grounds, to clean drinking water, and to access to water for irrigation.

In March of this year, federal Judge James Boasberg sided with the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, striking down the permits granted for the pipeline by the United States Army Corps of Engineers. Boasberg ordered the Corps to do a full environmental impact statement, calling the analysis by the Army Corps as well as both companies behind the pipeline severely lacking. The judge noted “serious gaps in crucial parts of the Corps’ analysis.”

Gonzalez became emotional as he described his friends, fellow protesters, who had been injured during the stand-off at Standing Rock when federal troops were brought in.

His comrades gave Gonzalez the ceremonial name of Kanipawit Maskwa, meaning Standing Bear, which he uses for his media company. He has written a book about the Standing Rock experience and says it solidified for him the need to stand up against and raise awareness about big corporations.

As the Guilderland Town Board discussed the resolution, Supervisor Barber said, “Any environmental benefit anywhere in the state is a benefit for all.” But who is among the “all” that benefits? Certainly the hedge fund Blackstone benefits. Just as certainly, the native peoples whose lives and livelihoods are being harmed do not benefit.

A representative speaking for Transmission Development Inc., proposing the project, said, “It will essentially be out of sight, out of mind.” He was talking about the fact that the cable will be buried and require no maintenance by the town.

But we think it’s also true that the hurt felt by indigenous people will be out of sight and out of mind.

Besides our empathy for these people, we also have concerns about the lack of scientific support that would make it clear this type of hydropower is good for the environment.

We cannot just assume entities like the Army Corps of Engineers are right as the the recent federal court decision in the favor of the Standing Rock Sioux shows.

Right here in Albany County, we’ve written about how Norlite, in Cohoes, was burning toxic fire-fighting foams but it wasn’t until citizens blew the whistle that the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation said it would work with Norlite to develop and test a burn protocol.

On Monday, the Albany County Legislature passed a Clean Air Act that would protect us if the county executive signs it into law.

Also this week, after a public relations firm working for Transmission Developers Inc. asked us to correct a statement in our story made by an environmental lawyer and activist that the cable could interfere with ship navigation, we learned that the report saying it would not harm navigation was funded by TDI, the company building the project. We then talked to an expert who alerted us not just to dangers in navigation but to other problems as well, such as with anchoring, as this will be only the third known installation of parallel cable routing and the other two had severe problems.

He also pointed out that the TDI-funded report, now posted on our website along with other reports, does not address the 30 miles of rock in the Hudson River where the cable will not be able to be buried nor does it address the 80 to 130 times the cable will have to cross other cables and pipelines that run perpendicular to the cable route across the river.

There are problems, too, with larger environmental concerns.

Some studies have found that megadams trap sediment that would otherwise flow to the sea, undermining the ocean’s ability to store carbon.

Huge reservoirs destroy carbon-sequestering forests and wetlands, releasing greenhouse gases. Also, manufacturing steel and concrete to build the dams and infrastructure causes emissions.

One analysis, published last year in “Environmental Science & Technology,” found that hydropower, unlike wind and solar power — which governments and the general public often think of as similar low-carbon energy sources — can have greenhouse gas emissions on par with fossil fuels.

Probably none of us here in Guilderland have lived in the sort of pristine world Rita Monias cried over losing but we should strive to see if the projects we approve are what they purport to be.

Joined: 12/30/2019 - 20:35

Thank you for your research and insight into this project. This is the kind of information that should have been made public before the Town Board approved it. In fact, only one member of the Board voted against it and rightly so.

I do not feel as though the Residents of this Town were given ample time or opportunity to fully understand or question this project. Although there was someone from the a Hydro-Québec Company available to answer questions on the night of the vote, it was not enough time for anyone to do enough research to ask pertinent questions. Providing a short brochure as part of the agenda is not enough information for anyone to make an informed decision, or to offer up any intelligent comments regarding the project. One of the major issues that I saw, was this misnomer of ‘increased tax revenue.’ This seems to be this Town’s answer to everything...look at all the tax money that will be generated....well, in this case, it is bull. As the Representative stated, there would be minimal disruption to the Town because the lines would be running along right-of-ways. There is no more tax advantage to anyone for this. Whoever owns the property is still responsible for paying the taxes. It does not mean that the taxes for this right of way usage will increase.

Again, I think we have been deceived by the Town Supervisor. To say that because the a Governor wants it and it should be approved makes me want to ask ‘What’s in it for YOU Mr. Barber, because clearly as Residents, we literally had no say or were given the appropriate information to voice our concerns. I was always of the belief that a Town Government worked a FOR its constituents, but I am saddened that Guilderland does not. It works for large Corporations at our expense.

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