Energy Portlet - Wind energy farm

Alta dam

Hydro-power has led to several megaprojects in the circumpolar North that have subsequently been subject to massive protests and even international debates. One prominent classic case is the Alta Hydropower Station and corresponding "Alta Controversy" at the end of 1970's and early 1980's.

When in 1970 the Norwegian government announced its plan to build a large dam in the Alta river in northern Norway to increase energy security, the local indigenous population (the Sámi), along with some environmental groups, started a protest that ended up lasting more than a decade.

Eventually, a court ruling broke the deadlock and a modified version of the dam and reservoir was built. It had the anticipated impacts on the environment and on the local communities' livelihoods, but it had also created a political climate in which the Sámi had managed to make themselves heard.

In fact, the Sámi ended up playing a central and crucial role in the planning process. Originally, the Sámi village of Maze was to be flooded, but protests succeeded in having this plan modified. The power station construction also affected reindeer migration routes and had impact on wild salmon fishing.

The Alta Controversy saw vigorous protest with civil disobedience and pledges made even to the pope. In the end, the power station was build and after the court ruling in favor of the project, protests eventually disappeared in the early 1980's.

However, the legacy of this controversy is showing some positive aspects for the Sami in Norway: The impact on salmon fishing was not as strong as first feared by the protestors. Even though the Sami lost on this particular issue, they seemingly made long-term gains. The Controversy lead to a re-evaluation of Sami's rights as indigenous peoples, the controversy actually putting the issue on the national political agenda.

A milestone was the passing of the Finnmark Act in 2005. Also Sami interest in their culture was renewed and counteracted efforts of the previous Norwegianization policy. The project also led to numerous studies emphasizing the necessity of thorough socioeconomic and environmental impact assessments during all stages of a planned megaproject in the North.

Sources: UArctic

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