‘I’m not going anywhere’: Relocation offer comes as a shock to Mud Lake residents

Mud Lake resident Watson Rumbolt helped rescue more than 30 huskies from flooding in 2017. He and his dogs are back in the community now, and he says they’re unlikely to move. (John Gaudi/CBC)

A resident of Mud Lake, along with legal representatives, questions the motives of the provincial government to provide resettlement funds to the community.

According to Watson Rumbolt, he’s not going anywhere.

« It’s a job to say, ‘Oh, I’m going to leave it all behind for $250,000,' » Rumbolt told CBC News over the weekend.

On Thursday, the provincial government announced it is offering up to $270,000 per household to Mud Lake residents who want to relocate from the community, which was devastated by May 2017 flooding, forcing dozens to flee .

But Rumbolt doesn’t think many will take up the offer – maybe three or four households, by his tally.

“There are probably already four or five that have already been moved,” he said.

With children and grandchildren living within walking distance of his home, located next to the house his wife was born in nearly 70 years before, Rumbolt is in no rush to leave.

« As long as I have my family around me, I mean, I’m not going anywhere, » he said.

Government assistance for the resettlement of a community usually depends on a vote. The threshold is 75% of a community’s residents voting in favor of relocation.

The province bypassed that process for Mud Lake, saying in a news release that the reason is « a result of past and potential flooding that is of ongoing concern to some residents » and because of the community’s geographic location.

An aerial photo shows flooding in an area of ​​Mud Lake near Happy Valley-Goose Bay in May 2017. Many structures still show damage from that time. (Donald Edmunds)

The province leaves the decision to move or stay in the community up to each household.

Rumbolt echoes the concern about future flooding. He said while the years since 2017 haven’t seen the same type of flooding, the fear is still there.

« All of us, I think, in Mud Lake are worried about that.… [We’re] more or less scared every spring, wondering what’s going to happen,” he said.

Questions needing answers

The resettlement money offer comes amid the ongoing class action lawsuit filed against Nalcor Energy by area residents alleging the flooding was linked to the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric project just upstream. Nalcor Energy has since been absorbed by NL Hydro.

An independent assessment of the 2017 flood concluded that the event was not due to Muskrat Falls but to natural causes with unusually heavy rain and ice blocking the mouth of the Churchill River.

Halifax lawyer Ray Wagner, who is representing Mud Lake in the lawsuit, takes the offer as an admission of responsibility for what happened.

« I’m happy to hear that they’re going to do the right thing, » Wagner said.

But he says there was no communication with residents or legal counsel prior to the offer of resettlement funds and, as something their lawsuit initially requested, it came as a shock.

« We don’t know what that means, » Wagner said. « We have no idea how to quantify these issues. There are a whole host of questions that need to be answered. »

Rumbolt sees a line between residents’ complaints and the relocation money being offered against « potential risks that may arise in the future », as Municipal Affairs Minister Krista Lynn Howell said in Thursday’s press release .

« I think they’re offering this to us…to try to get everybody moving, so that if something happens they don’t have to deal with Mud Lake anymore, » Rumbolt said.

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