A group of protesters from Mainland, on Newfoundland and Labrador's Port au Port Peninsula, has blocked a road to a wind power test site for more than a week, citing concerns about their water supply.
Crown land near Mainland has been identified as a site of a future meteorological evaluation tower designed to collect data and help determine the future viability of a development by wind power company World Energy GH2.
But Mainland residents opposed to the construction of the tower say the road a contractor has cut to the area is creating problems with their supplemental water supply.
"What's coming down is not fit to drink," said Zita Hinks. "We have an all-grade school here in our community, a lot of small children — that water was going to them as well. Somebody will get sick if this water system is not cleaned up."
The road to the tower site runs about nine kilometres along the side of a mountain, heading to the peninsula's interior. Streams and brooks in the area run into LeCointre's Brook, the secondary source of water for the local service district.
"We're asking the government, 'Why?'" said Hinks. "'Why are you doing this to our water supply?' It's not fair. It's inhumane because the way we feel, water is the very basic necessities of life. The government cannot deny us a good drinking water source."
According to the local service district, a pumphouse, funded largely by the provincial government, was installed near the mouth of LeCointre's Brook in the late 1990s. It pumps water into the primary reservoir when water levels are low.
Dwight Cornect, who was elected to the local service district committee in 2009, said the provincial government's subsidization of the project means the land should be protected from development.
"It is not a secondary water supply. It is actually part of our water system."
When the committee heard in late 2022 the mountainous area around LeCointre's Brook was not considered a protected area, it applied for protection for the land to prevent any work from happening in the area.
"We as an LSD, as elected representatives of a community, that we have a responsibility to ensure that access to our public drinking supply is controlled, limited, that not just anybody can enter this area," said Cornect.
The Department of Environment and Climate Change declined an interview request.
In a statement, the department said it issued two temporary licences to World Energy GH2 to permit temporary wind-monitoring activities in the area. Once World Energy GH2 completes its data collection, the licences end and the site is to be returned to an acceptable condition, says the statement.
The department says it collected samples from LeCointre's Brook twice, most recently on Nov. 24.
"Results indicated that turbidity and colour were elevated, but no other water quality concerns were identified," the statement reads. "Officials conducting a site visit in early December have indicated that silt control measures were installed at the culvert replacement locations."
Since the watershed is not considered a protected area, the road upgrading work did not require any permits under the Water Recourses Act.
World Energy GH2 declined an interview but in a statement the company said it's carefully following provincial guidelines on operating near bodies of water. The company is using local, native material from the existing Crown Lands access road to widen it, according to the statement.
"The primary road material is clay-like," the statement reads. "The clay is not poisonous and is not a contaminant."
To help prevent storm water runoff from contributing to turbidity in the brook, World Energy GH2 said it is surrounding the access road with mitigation meausres such as silt fencing and check dams.
"We have also asked a third-party engineering consultant to assess the mitigations and recommend improvements.
"Aside from our commitment to mitigate turbidity in Mainland's proposed backup water supply … we are willing and able to help improve water supplies in the area. We are committed to being a good community partner and to bringing tangible benefits to the area."
The only way for World Energy GH2 to help the people of Mainland is by packing up and leaving, said Hinks, and the blockade will continue as long as is needed.
"We don't want the windmills. We don't want them here in our area. It's our water. Don't mess with our water," she said.
"I would love to see them come here and say … 'We're getting out of here, we're getting off the peninsula.' Best thing ever. Because the Port au Port Peninsula does not want this."