'Irreparably damaged': Family fishing lodge battle with NTPC resumes

Hostilities are resuming in a years-long compensation battle between a South Slave fishing lodge and the Northwest Territories Power Corporation (NTPC).

The Nonacho Lake Lodge, 350 kilometres northeast of Hay River, maintains that NTPC operations in the area have damaged its business ever since the building of the Taltson hydro dam in 1966.

Jean Carter and her family, owners of the lodge, first attempted to claim compensation in 2012. The Mackenzie Valley Land and Water Board, which has jurisdiction over such claims, awarded the family $62,500 – or one hundredth of the $6 million they sought.

However, in 2014, an N.W.T. Supreme Court judge ruled that the Board had failed to follow due process in reaching that figure: in one instance, improperly denying the Carters the right to reply.

Now, five years after the initial decision, a re-hearing will take place in May. Both parties filed fresh papers with the Board last week.

'Worry every day'

In their new submission, the Carters maintain that the NTPC's operations led to high mercury concentrations in local lake fish; eroded the lake shoreline; altered the lake water level; and directly "led to a dramatic decline in patrons" at the lodge.

According to the Carters, revenue from the camp declined from a high of $799,000 in 1987 to less than $90,000 in 2010.

"It is unlikely that the Lodge will remain a viable business... due to NTPC's continued operations," the Carters' submission reads.

"The amount of inconvenience that the Carters have had to endure and will continue to endure as a result of the nuisances created by NTPC is astronomical.

"The Carters worry every day that Nonacho Lake has been irreparably damaged and that they will have to give up their way of life and family business."

For this second hearing, the Carters have reduced the compensation they are seeking. Last week's submission seeks a payment of $3.2 million, including $2.7 million related to economic loss and $500,000 for nuisance and loss of lifestyle.

'No evidence'

The Power Corporation, in its own submission to the Board, uses powerful language in dismissing the Carters' claims.

Rejecting allegations related to mercury levels in fish and adverse environmental effects, the NTPC demands that the compensation request "be denied in its entirety."

The NTPC lawyers submit that the Carter family's claims are "nonsensical and void of realism."

The submission adds: "The Carter family has failed to produce any scientific evidence showing a causal link between the operation of the Taltson Facility and the extinction of fish in Nonacho Lake.

"There is no evidence supporting the Carters' claim that reduced stocks of fish species has caused economic losses.

"The Board should give no weight to the claims made by the Carter family, as these claims are based on the personal observations and assertions of the Carter family in an attempt to gain substantial and personal financial rewards."

Both sides' submissions question the knowledge and integrity of the other side's hired experts, while the NTPC takes pains to insist the Carters are not legally entitled to compensation for events occurring under previous water licences (prior to 2011).

The re-hearing – which is open to the public – has been set for May 16 and 17. Both parties will present oral arguments and respond to questions.

A date for the Board's final decision has not been confirmed.