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B.C. Government Gives Go-Ahead to Site C Dam, But Fight Far From Over

The moment I caught wind that the B.C. government’s decision on the Site C dam was coming down, my mind gravitated to Ken and Arlene Boon’s farm in the Peace River valley.

It was there that under the hot July sun, the Boons showed me around their 640-acre property that's hosted five generations of their family.

If the Site C dam is built, as the B.C. government announced Tuesday it will be, much of the Boon’s farm will be underwater as part of the 55 square kilometres of river valley that will be flooded.

“It’s impossible to replace when you have this kind of history,” Arlene said. “I don’t want to be a millionaire. I just want to be happy on this land.”

You wouldn't think dozens of farmers and ranchers are going to lose their livelihoods based on the tone of Tuesday's press conference. The event to announce the go-ahead for the most expensive project in B.C. history was a BC Hydro love-in, full of pats on the back for the leaders of the project.

“This is a decision that is going to make a real difference for 100 years,” Premier Christy Clark said.

Jessica McDonald, BC Hydro CEO, chimed in with: “This is a day of exciting new beginnings for BC Hydro.”

“You don’t get to a day like today without literally hundreds of dedicated people working toward how to engineer something like this,” Bill Bennett, Minister of Energy and Mines, added.

Four questions were asked by the press, then there was a jubliant photo op and everyone moved along.

Meanwhile, people like the Boons watched from their computer screens in the Peace Valley.

“It’s sad, eh?” Ken said. “I watched Christy giving her talk there and I’m just struck by the way it’s like she hasn’t been listening to all these groups that have all stepped up.”

Those groups include not just local landowners and First Nations, but Clean Energy BC and the Canadian Geothermal Association, who’ve proposed alternatives they say would be cheaper and less environmentally damaging than building a third mega dam on the Peace River.

The total price tag for the Site C dam jumped from $7.9 billion to $8.775 billion in the past week. The premier said construction will start in the summer of 2015 and the project will be completed in 2024.

“All economic development projects have impacts of some kind,” Clark said. “First Nations are going to be impacted. Communities are going to be impacted. We need to be conscious of that and we need to do everything we can to mitigate it.”

But before mitigation begins, the project will have to navigate six different lawsuits from the Peace Valley Landowners' Association and First Nations.

“It’s pretty clean cut now," Ken said. "We know what our battle is. It’s far from a done deal. We’re having a meeting tonight with our lawyer.”

The landowners’ provincial challenge is scheduled to go to court on April 20.

The decision to proceed with the Site C dam ignores the recommendations of the Joint Review Panel, which said it couldn’t verify the cost estimates for the project or the long-term energy demand forecasts and recommended that the independent B.C. Utilities Commission should assess these factors.

“Approving Site C is the worst financial decision the province has ever made. It will leave us with a legacy of debt and destruction,” said Andrea Morison of the Peace Valley Environment Association.

Wendy Francis, the acting president of the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative, called the decision to move ahead with the project “foolish.”

“Dams elsewhere are being dismantled because of their devastating environmental and social impacts,” Francis said. “The pace of industrial development in B.C.’s Peace region exceeds the pace of development in Alberta’s oilsands. We urge the B.C. government to conduct an immediate cumulative impacts assessment for the Peace region, as recommended by the Joint Review Panel.”

Back in the Peace Valley, instead of contemplating having to leave his farm, Ken is focused on fundraising for the landowners’ legal action. So far the group has raised $55,000 toward a $200,000 goal via an online crowdfunding campaign.

“This is kind of like David vs. Goliath," he said. "But we all know how that story ended. I can't wait to see this project fail."

Read more: Out of Sight, Out of Mind: The Plight of the Peace Valley and the Site C Dam

Emma Gilchrist is a reporter, editor, public speaker and spreadsheet-keeper. She started her journalism career more than 15 years ago…

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