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Ottawa should help hydro lines avoid Gros Morne

Trees are silhouetted as the sun sets behind them in Gros Morne National Park.

JONATHAN HAYWARD/Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press

Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Danny Williams is calling on Ottawa to help fund the construction of hydroelectric transmission lines to avoid cutting through Gros Morne National Park in western Newfoundland, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

For months, the provincial government has faced criticism for proposing to build 40-metre high power lines through Gros Morne to transmit power from the proposed Lower Churchill hydroelectric project in Labrador.

"If the federal government is interested in an alternate route because of the importance of the UNESCO designation, because of the importance obviously of Gros Morne as a federal park, then I would expect the feds to participate with us in rerouting that cost," Mr. Williams said Tuesday.

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The cost of developing an alternate route could be as much as $100-million, Mr. Williams said, but he added that was a preliminary estimate.

"If in fact we can get support from the federal government and if in fact we can justify another route, then that's something I would prefer to do ... but I can't turn around and say today without proper costing that that's something I would definitely do," he said.

"It's a significant amount of money."

Officials with Nalcor Energy, the province's energy corporation, have said they're exploring an alternative route that would avoid Gros Morne and go through the Long Range Mountains on Newfoundland's Northern Peninsula.

But they acknowledge that would be more technically and economically challenging because of heavy ice conditions and winds that can reach 160 kilometres per hour.

The proposed Lower Churchill project would involve the construction of two hydroelectric generation stations in central Labrador, transmitting 3,074 megawatts of energy - enough to supply the energy needs of 1.5 million homes.

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