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Site C review gives mixed messages about the project

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The newly-issued Joint Review Panel Report on BC Hydro's proposed Site C dam has found that while the $8 billion project is a cheap and long-term solution to BC's energy requirements, it comes with significant social and environmental costs.

The newly-issued Joint Review Panel Report on BC Hydro's proposed Site C dam has found that while the $8 billion project is a cheap and long-term solution to BC's energy requirements, it comes with significant social and environmental costs.

It found that the project would impact First Nations traditional land, rare plants and wipe out farming in the Peace River valley area.

“The panel concludes that there may be some risk to existing infrastructure in Alberta from low flows and that this risk has not been assessed,” the report summary said.

The federal-provincial committee also said that it remained unconvinced regarding BC Hydro’s need for the project that is proposed to start up in 2024.

“If the ministers are inclined to proceed, they may wish to consider referring the load forecast and demand side management plan details to the B.C. Utilities Commission,” the report said.

The Joint Review Panel report findings were issued five days after BC Hydro posted a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) on BC Bid for main civil works for the Site C project.

The RFP initiates a 16-month procurement process with a contract award expected in summer 2015.

This RFQ is subject to environmental certification, regulatory permits and authorizations, and approvals.

The scope of the main civil works contract includes the construction of an earth fill dam, two diversion tunnels, and a concrete foundation for the generating station and spillways.

The Joint Review Panel cited the benefits of the project as a large and long-term block of energy that would be made available for future generations at a low cost.

BC Hydro’s information states this large scale project could provide enough for 450,000 homes for 100 years.

It provides less greenhouse gas than other energy alternatives except nuclear energy, which B.C. has prohibited.

The panel suggested that there would also be economic opportunities for local Aboriginal people in terms of job creation, while businesses in the area would benefit as well.

The panel said there would be an impact on the area, its people, and lands.

“Replacing a portion of the Peace River with an 83-kilometre reservoir would cause significant adverse effects on fish and fish habitat and a number of birds and bats, smaller vertebrate and invertebrate species, rare plants, and sensitive ecosystems,” it said.

“The project would significantly affect the current use of land and resources for traditional purposes by Aboriginal people, and the effect of that on Aboriginal rights and treaty rights generally would have to be weighed by government.

“It would end agriculture on the Peace Valley bottom lands, and while that would not be significant in the context of B.C. or western Canadian agricultural production, it would high impact the farmers who bear the loss.

“The project would inundate a number of valuable paleontological, archaeological and historical sites. It would have a modest effect on health, which could be mitigated, although the health effects of methylmercury on people who eat the reservoir fish requires more analysis to be sure.”

The Joint Review Panel report acknowledges that if the project were to proceed there would be significant adverse effects on some renewable resource valued components in the long term, diminished biodiversity and reduced capacity of renewable resources. It said a boom town atmosphere would result and it would have the usual health and social risks. The panel said that because of the low employment in the area, the project workers would come from other parts of the province and Canada.

“The local economic upside would largely provide the resources to deal with possible problems, including those related to health, education, and housing, especially if the arrangements BC Hydro is willing to make with local authorities can be concluded,” the report summary said.

The joint-review panel said the area was already seeing tremendous pressure from resource development, which was impacting fish, vegetation, communities, wildlife, land use and traditional resource use and its heritage.

“BC Hydro proposed a suite of mitigation measures which the panel accepted,” the report said.

The report mentioned the BC Hydro review and recommendations included it. The panel stated that these measures should be carried out if the work proceeds.

by Jean Sorensen

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