Evidence and pressure builds to kill dam
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.