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Nearly 6 years after flood, most Mud Lake, N.F.L., residents refuse to relocate

January 18, 2023 
By Peter Jackson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Watson Rumbolt won’t forget the day in May 2017 when the Churchill River overflowed its banks and rushed through the community of Mud Lake in central Labrador.

“My septic system gave out and all the sewage came back in my basement. I had two deep freezes down there, one full of meats and another one full of berries — bakeapples, all kinds of berries — right to the top. That was all floating bottom up in my basement.”

His hot water tank, furnace and pump were all ruined. He had to float heavy equipment across the river on a barge to clean up the mess and install a new septic system.

“I never got a chance to get at the house,” he said Friday.


“The floor is heaving up and the windows are starting to bulge. It was a big setback for us, and still is.”

Despite a relocation package offered by the province last year, Rumbolt has decided he’s staying.

The main reason? Residents were originally told power would still be available to them at their old homes if they moved. But the government had a change of heart.

“The people who are moving, their houses are going to be red-flagged. Their power’s going to be cut and the power cannot be restored to those particular dwellings,” said Craig Chaulk, another resident who’s staying put.

“This is home to me. My family’s been here for generations and I grew up here,” he said. “I just don’t want to leave. It’s a very unique lifestyle here. There’s just no other place like it.”

Chaulk estimates about 12 people have agreed to take the $250,000-$270,000 package people are being offered to leave.

The Telegram wasn’t able to obtain exact figures Friday, Jan. 6, but Lake Melville MHA Perry Trimper admitted last year he expects three out of four residents will want to stay.

But even a small exodus will mean the community of about 50 won’t be the same.

“One couple who are leaving, they’re the postmistress and the mailman. Apparently, once they leave, we’re going to lose our post office,” said Chaulk.

Deep roots

Rumbolt wasn’t born in the community, but has been there for almost half a decade.

His wife’s roots, however, go much deeper. Drucilla was born in a house that used to be right next door to where she and Watson now live.

“She moved 20 feet, and she’s going on 70 years old. Just about all of her family now are down there in the graveyard,” said Rumbolt.

“It would be different if she could have the heat on her house and come back whenever she wanted to. It would still be like home to her.”

The loss of power was a deal-breaker, he said.

“I worked 43 years to get what I got here. If we could have kept the power on to keep my house heated so it wouldn’t ruin, I would. Down here in Labrador with the cold weather, your house wouldn’t last very long with no heat in it. It would all crack up.”

Vyan Kerby is also staying put.

Her husband drowned in 2016, so she lives alone on the island part of the community with her dog.

“My plans are not to go anywhere right now,” she said.

Kerby’s memory of the flood are also still vivid.

The water completely enveloped the island where the community hall, church and school are located.

“I spent the night at Mom’s, and I had to wake her up at 12:30 and told her we had to leave and got to the community hall. It wasn’t a very pleasant sight. It’s something that will always be in my mind.”

Everyone had to be airlifted from the town, which is only accessible by boat in the summer and by snowmobile in the winter. For a few weeks of the year, the province offers a helicopter service when neither are possible.

Cause and effect

The cause of the 2017 flood is the subject of a class-action lawsuit against Nalcor Energy, the former Crown agency behind the Muskrat Falls hydroelectric development on the Lower Churchill.

For Mud Lake residents, however, there’s little doubt what caused the deluge.

“The Labrador people didn’t want Muskrat put in there in the first place, and they went against them and put it in anyway,” said Rumbolt. “If you took someone and held them underwater and drowned them, you’d be charged with murder. This is what the government is doing.”

The province — which succeeded in being removed as a co-defendant in the suit — released an independent report after the flood that concluded the Muskrat Falls dam had nothing to do with the disaster.

Climate change is also an important consideration.

But the law firm that represents pretty well everyone in the community says it all has yet to be decided.

Kate Boyle, a partner with Wagner Law in Halifax, says they’re still waiting on documentation from Nalcor, which is now represented by Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro since the Liberal government dissolved the larger energy corporation formed by the Danny Williams government in 2007.

There are two elements in play. One is whether the dam caused the flooding, and the other is whether the company’s lack of monitoring of conditions played a role.

“It will all be based on the opinion of experts and what the court decides was the cause of the flooding, but I would say the allegations include both,” Boyle said Friday. “It’s failure to monitor, but also a change in the waterway and increasing sedimentation within the river bed.”

And while Trimper had assured residents the relocation funds won’t jeopardize their lawsuit, Boyle says the close connection between the government and its Crown corporation could set a bad precedent.

“They’re not entirely independent. And that’s where there’s a very significant grey area and a concern of, could this allow defendants to circumvent the legitimate court process by creating a numbered company that offers compensation outside of a class proceeding.”

Fighting fear

In the meantime, most residents seem willing to live with the uncertainty of whether another flood is likely.

“We think about it every day, especially in the spring of the year,” said Rumbolt.

But Kerby believes it was a unique occurrence.

“It was always a safe community in regards to flooding and everything else,” she said.

“The trappers had this place for their families to be safe. They wouldn’t have left them here if it wasn’t safe.

“I have no fear of going to sleep in the night, because if I live by fear, I’m not living,” Kerby said. “I’m just making the best of each day.”

The $250,000-plus being offered wouldn’t be enough to purchase a comparable dwelling in nearby Happy Valley-Goose Bay, where houses can sell for $400,000 and more.

Peter Jackson is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter for The Telegram.

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