Site C re­view tour heads to B.C.’s north­east

Medicine Hat News - - FRONT PAGE -

VIC­TO­RIA The fate of the largest pub­lic project in Bri­tish Columbia’s his­tory, the Site C hy­dro­elec­tric dam, will be the fo­cus of in­tense scru­tiny this week as pro­vin­cial cabi­net min­is­ters travel north for last­minute con­sul­ta­tions.

The New Democrats promised to de­cide Site C’s fate by the end of the year af­ter a re­view by the B.C. Util­i­ties Com­mis­sion, the prov­ince’s in­de­pen­dent en­ergy reg­u­la­tor, con­cluded the dam is over bud­get and be­hind sched­ule.

Con­struc­tion work on the $8.3-bil­lion project be­gan near Fort St. John in the north­east­ern part of the prov­ince more than two years ago.

The heat is on, said Premier John Hor­gan, who is send­ing his min­is­ters of In­dige­nous re­la­tions and en­ergy to the re­gion for con­sul­ta­tions with First Na­tions and com­mu­nity rep­re­sen­ta­tives this week.

Hor­gan said he will con­tinue to crunch num­bers and try to de­cide what's best for rate pay­ers.

“This is not an easy choice. This is not an easy de­ci­sion,” he said. “We’re go­ing to be grap­pling with it for the next cou­ple of weeks. I’m not un­der­es­ti­mat­ing the chal­lenge ahead of me.”

De­cid­ing the project’s fu­ture is the first ma­jor test of the mi­nor­ity New Democrats, who have said it will im­pact the en­tire prov­ince. Site C has been marked by en­vi­ron­men­tal, eco­nomic, tech­no­log­i­cal and In­dige­nous rights con­cerns that have be­come the front lines of po­lit­i­cal bat­tles in the prov­ince.

“I, now as the leader of the gov­ern­ment, have to look at what the con­se­quences are of what our de­ci­sion will be go­ing for­ward,” Hor­gan said.

En­vi­ron­men­tal stud­ies ex­pert Karen Bakker said the util­i­ties com­mis­sion’s re­cent re­port shows the project’s cost could grow to $12 bil­lion, all to pro­vide en­ergy that isn’t re­quired.

“It’s a very ex­pen­sive project,” said Bakker, who led a team at the Univer­sity of Bri­tish Columbia that pro­duced five re­ports on Site C. “That’s the co­nun­drum the prov­ince is fac­ing. This could be a huge money sink for the prov­ince.”

The util­i­ties com­mis­sion was asked by the NDP gov­ern­ment to con­firm whether Crown-owned BC Hy­dro is on tar­get to com­plete con­struc­tion of Site C on bud­get and by 2024. It was also asked to pro­vide ad­vice on three pos­si­ble out­comes: pro­ceed­ing with the project, sus­pend­ing con­struc­tion un­til 2024 or ter­mi­nat­ing it.

The com­mis­sion con­cluded sus­pend­ing and restart­ing the project in 2024 is the least at­trac­tive op­tion, and would add at least $3.6 bil­lion to the price tag.

The re­view didn’t make a rec­om­men­da­tion on whether the prov­ince should pro­ceed with or can­cel the dam, but said ter­mi­nat­ing Site C would cost $1.8 bil­lion while com­plet­ing it could cost more than $10 bil­lion.

The com­mis­sion also said there are vi­able al­ter­na­tive en­ergy sources, in­clud­ing wind, geo­ther­mal and in­dus­trial cur­tail­ment, that could pro­vide sim­i­lar ben­e­fits with an equal or lower cost.

“The com­mis­sion’s re­port is very clear that there are high eco­nomic risks,” Bakker said.

She said the project also faces po­ten­tial law­suits from In­dige­nous groups.

But Lib­eral Mike Bernier, who rep­re­sents the Daw­son Creek area near the dam, said killing Site C would re­sult in the prov­ince los­ing $4 bil­lion, with noth­ing to show for its in­vest­ment.

He said more than 2,000 peo­ple are cur­rently work­ing on the dam and their jobs are now un­der threat.

“Site C is a gen­er­a­tional op­por­tu­nity to help the prov­ince grow, give us cheap re­new­able power and have op­por­tu­ni­ties for my kids and ev­ery­body else's kids,” Bernier said. “To me that’s why this project is some­thing I’m fight­ing for be­cause I see the op­por­tu­ni­ties of build­ing our prov­ince.”

He said six of eight In­dige­nous groups near the dam site have signed ben­e­fits agree­ments with BC Hy­dro.

In­dige­nous Re­la­tions Min­is­ter Scott Fraser said he will speak with sup­port­ers and op­po­nents of Site C when he vis­its north­east­ern B.C. this week.

“We will be meet­ing with all of the na­tions re­gard­less of their take on the project or their in­volve­ment in any ben­e­fits agree­ments or their op­po­si­tion,” he said. “It’s to lis­ten be­cause we don’t know what we are go­ing to do.”

Chief Roland Will­son of the West Moberly First Na­tion, which is op­posed to the dam, had a mes­sage for the gov­ern­ment dur­ing a re­cent protest at the leg­is­la­ture.

“It's not this gov­ern­ment that ap­proved this project, but it is this gov­ern­ment that has the abil­ity to stop this thing,” he said.

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