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In August, the Quebec government gave the go-ahead to a controversial private hydroelectric dam project on the Magpie River in the province’s North Shore.

The small, 40-megawatt dam will be built and operated by a private company called Hydroméga. The project is expected to cost $60 million and will be operational by Oct. 2006.

The Bureau d’audiences publiques sur l’environnment (office of public hearings on the environment) approved the project last year on the condition that the municipality and local Innu community be brought on board as partners. Both groups have eagerly signed on to the project.

The region is one of Quebec’ poorest, with a very high unemployment rate. The government says the dam will create jobs while taking some of the pressure off public energy provider Hydro-Québec. But Hydro-Québec is opposed to the project, saying that such a small dam would hardly make a dent in capacity and that if it is to be built at all, it should remain public to ensure not only responsible spending but also environmental accountability. CUPE represents some 17,500 hydro-sector workers in Quebec.

The remote Magpie River is considered a paradise for wilderness lovers, with some of the most dramatic white-water rafting in North America. Prominent environmentalists, including Robert F. Kennedy Jr., have blasted the Quebec government’s decision to dam it, saying that salmon spawning grounds will be irreparably damaged and the unspoiled landscape ruined for future generations.