Ev­i­dence and pres­sure builds to kill dam

The Province - - NEWS - Mike Smyth msmyth@post­media.com twit­ter.com/MikeSmythNews

As the NDP gov­ern­ment’s fast­tracked re­view of the Site C dam con­tin­ues, bad news about the con­tro­ver­sial mega-pro­ject is pil­ing up on a near-daily ba­sis.

Missed con­struc­tion dead­lines. Bud­get over­runs. Fights with con­trac­tors. A dwin­dling con­tin­gency fund. Ex­pen­sive en­gi­neer­ing chal­lenges, in­clud­ing two mas­sive “ten­sion cracks” on the banks of the Peace River. And now a new re­port from Marc Eliesen, a for­mer B.C. Hy­dro pres­i­dent, who re­peated his call for the $8.9-bil­lion (and ris­ing) pro­ject to be scrapped.

“Site C must be can­celled,” Eliesen wrote in the re­port sub­mit­ted Wednesday to the B.C. Util­i­ties Com­mis­sion (BCUC), ar­gu­ing that con­tin­u­ing to build the mega-dam “will cause ma­jor eco­nomic harm to fam­i­lies and busi­nesses through­out the prov­ince.”

It’s all bad tim­ing for sup­port­ers of the dam, which faces a Nov. 1 dead­line for the BCUC to is­sue a fi­nal re­port on its fu­ture to Pre­mier John Hor­gan and his cab­i­net.

On the one hand, B.C. Hy­dro has al­ready spent about $2 bil­lion build­ing the dam. Can­celling it would trig­ger more than $1 bil­lion in ad­di­tional costs. Still, crit­ics of the pro­ject say it’s bet­ter to take a $3-bil­lion bath now than to in­flict bil­lions of dol­lars in ad­di­tional costs on the pub­lic by com­plet­ing a white ele­phant.

Hor­gan is still in his first 100 days in of­fice, when early de­ci­sions set the tone and send cru­cial mes­sages to the busi­ness and in­vest­ment com­mu­ni­ties. Hor­gan must de­cide if he re­ally wants to fire more than 2,000 con­struc­tion work­ers (with Christ­mas right around the cor­ner) as one of his first ma­jor de­ci­sions as pre­mier. And he must weigh the im­pact on the prov­ince’s rep­u­ta­tion as a place to do busi­ness if the gov­ern­ment walks away from an ap­proved pro­ject.

A tough choice. But re­cent de­vel­op­ments may make it eas­ier. When Hy­dro sub­mit­ted a 866-page re­port to the BCUC on Aug. 30, the Crown corp. in­sisted the Site C pro­ject was “on time and on bud­get” with a price tag of $8.3 bil­lion. But, just five weeks later on Oct. 4, cur­rent Hy­dro pres­i­dent Chris O’Ri­ley ac­knowl­edged “geotech­ni­cal and con­struc­tion chal­lenges” had sud­denly in­flated the cost by $610 mil­lion or 7.3 per cent.

The “geotech­ni­cal” prob­lems in­clude those cracks in the river bank, forc­ing a one-year con­struc­tion de­lay, and the “con­struc­tion chal­lenges” in­clude dis­putes with Hy­dro’s main civil-works con­trac­tor.

Eliesen pre­dicts even more bad news to come.

“It is the au­thor’s con­sid­ered opin­ion, based on many years of ex­pe­ri­ence at a num­ber of Cana­dian util­i­ties ... that the cost of Site C has a high prob­a­bil­ity of in­creas­ing from $9 bil­lion to $12 bil­lion, more than 30 per cent,” Eliesen wrote in his re­port.

The Site C dam is for­mer Lib­eral pre­mier Christy Clark’s baby, and some New Democrats would surely love to deny her a legacy.

The bot­tom line: The chances of the Site C dam be­ing can­celled are going up.

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