Site C Dam Contruction aerial.

BC Hydro Let Off Hook for $400,000 Site C Dam Fine … Again

Sandbags, bales of weed-free straw, crushed gravel and silt fencing are among the extra supplies BC Hydro has stockpiled at the Site C dam construction site to avoid federal fines.

In early January the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency issued BC Hydro with a Notice of Intent to Issue an Order after inspectors found that “no erosion and sediment contingency supplies” were to be found at three sites.

The agency also noted BC Hydro could face fines of up to $400,000 for not meeting the conditions set out in its environmental certificate.

It’s not the first time BC Hydro has been found in contravention of the law. In May, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency found BC Hydro had failed to measure air pollution and threatened BC Hydro with a $400,000 fine.

BC Hydro, in a Jan. 5 letter to the Environmental Assessment Agency, said all measures had been taken to restore the Site C project to a “state of conformity,” and, after studying photographs supplied by BC Hydro, the agency agreed that there was no need to issue the order, which could have resulted in hefty fines.

“The contingency supplies, including hay bales and sandbags, must be on hand to mitigate potential environmental effects, such as those to fish and fish habitat, as a result of construction activities,” said CEAA communications spokeswoman Lucille Jamault in an e-mailed answer to questions from DeSmog Canada.

B.C.’s Environmental Assessment Office (EAO) previously issued three warnings to BC Hydro over pollution, erosion and sediment concerns during construction of the controversial $9 billion dam.

The EAO, after an August inspection, found that “excessive sedimentation is still occurring and the risk of erosion has not been effectively mitigated over much of the project.”

Problems included a landslide that occurred as a result of an overloaded sediment fence, which deposited sediment directly into the Moberly River, a temporary road constructed through a sediment fence that was supposed to protect a wetland even though “less environmentally detrimental options exist,” and plugged culverts.

On Oct. 18 BC Hydro responded with a two-month plan to address sediment and erosion control and, although no further enforcement action was taken, the problem areas are being monitored.

The B.C. agency also issued two orders on Dec. 22, both of which require action from BC Hydro and its’ contractors.

The first found that BC Hydro was not complying with conditions to conduct amphibian surveys and to protect amphibians on roads adjacent to wetlands and requires a detailed plan to be in place by Feb. 15.

The second order found BC Hydro was not complying with well monitoring requirements and, by January 16, the agency wants a list of all wells within one kilometre of the reservoir and details of the monitoring program.

BC Hydro did not return phone calls from DeSmog Canada, but a story posted on the BC Hydro site on Jan. 7 said that the construction, rather than being “rife with environmental violations,” stands as “a study in environmental best practice for major utility projects.”

Approval of the project, which will flood 83 kilometres of the main Peace River Valley and 35 kilometres of the tributary valleys, came with 150 legally binding federal and provincial conditions and that means the work by contractors is continually being inspected, says the article.

“We took immediate steps to respond in the face of some severe rain events that caused flash flooding and made erosion and sediment control even more challenging. In fact, the precipitation over the May to August 2016 period would be likely to occur only once or twice per century,” it says.

A new erosion and silt control program is in place, with 30 kilometres of silt fencing, nine sediment ponds and 240,000 square metres of the area hydroseeded. Fifteen employees on site are responsible for the erosion and sediment control program.

However, Ken Boon, Peace Valley Landowner Association president, said questions remain about the effects of the construction on the water quality in the Peace River and its tributaries.

“There are ongoing concerns with silt from the project. There are many concerns that have not been addressed with machines working directly in the river and creating silt,” he said.

The in-stream silt monitor appears to be 10 kilometres downstream from where the work is being done, Boon said.

“You have to wonder if that’s why everything seems to stay in allowable limits.”

However, it is difficult for opponents to monitor the work as a public viewing site that was scheduled to be in use last fall will now not be completed until later this year, Boon said.

“I think there were stability problems,” he said.

Judith Lavoie is an award-winning journalist based in Victoria, British Columbia. Lavoie covered environment and First Nations stories for the…

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