BC Hydro has come out swinging against the Royal Society of Canada and 250 of Canada’s top scientists and academics that recently called for a stop to construction of the Site C dam, saying the group is being one-sided.
Royal Society representatives and academics did not take part in the environmental assessment process and did not seek a balanced assessment of the hydroelectric mega-project, says an unusually critical statement released by BC Hydro.
A Statement of Concern, released by the academics earlier this week, asks the federal government to live up to election promises to respect legal obligations to First Nations and to make decisions based on scientific integrity.
Repeated requests by DeSmog Canada for comments from Energy and Mines Minister Bill Bennett have been ignored but, speaking to other media, Bennett criticized the Royal Society for being political and suggested members should have taken part in the environmental assessment process.
Ken Boon, president of the Peace Valley Landowner Association, whose historic farmhouse overlooking the Peace River will be flooded by the dam, dismissed that idea.
“That’s silly,” he said pointing to the many recommendations made by the Joint Review Panel that were then ignored by the provincial government in its rush to get construction of the dam underway.
“There were steps that should have shut it down and it didn’t make any difference,” said Boon, who is happy to see the academic support. Boon, along with several other Site C opponents, is currently being sued by BC Hydro for his participation in a protest camp. Legal experts have criticized the lawsuit as a threat to freedom of expression.
“This has had incredible media coverage and rightly so when you have such a large and distinguished group speaking out on the project,” he said.
Boon does not believe the provincial government is showing any sign of listening to the criticism, but his hopes are pinned on the federal government.
“In a lot of ways the ball is in the federal government’s court right now. It’s the government’s obligation to review those permits properly and then refuse to issue them if that’s what they deem is the right thing to do,” he said.
The Royal Society and fellow academics say the federal government should not issue any more permits for the project until there have been additional reviews and the courts have ruled on four legal challenges that have not yet been heard.
In its statement BC Hydro argued it cannot stop construction to wait for court rulings as its mandate is to meet the long-term electricity needs of customers and to build Site C on time and on budget.
“Court challenges of major infrastructure projects are not uncommon in Canada and they do not stop construction from proceeding,” says the statement, which points out that, so far, four judicial reviews of the environmental appeals have been dismissed.
Chief Roland Willson of West Moberly First Nation is hoping the appeal by scientists and academics will influence the federal government.
“It is frustrating when you have the premier of B.C. saying they are just going to ride roughshod over the rights of First Nations…But we have some ability to get the federal government to pay attention because the treaty lies with them, so they are on the hook,” Willson said. The West Moberly and Prophet River First Nations are currently fighting against the Site C dam in the courts, saying the project violates treaty rights.
“If they issue permits, then we may have to file another court case for treaty infringement.”
The Wilderness Committee is among groups calling on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to consider the human rights and environmental impacts of the dam detailed by the academics.
“The federal government’s position is that projects like the Site C dam that were approved by the previous Conservative government will not be revisited,” said Joe Foy, Wilderness Committee national campaign director.
“This is an outrageous position and a slap in the face to those who have been demanding justice. B.C. taxpayers are being fleeced and First Nations’ and farmers’ lands are being flooded for this dam project — the government must do the right thing."
Image: Premier Christy Clark and Minister Bill Bennett/Flickr