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Enbridge Used Anonymous Companies to Propose Hydroelectric Dams in Salmon-Bearing Waters

While Canadians have had their eye on the company's Northern Gateway Pipeline proposal, Enbridge has been quietly developing numerous new hydroelectric projects in major B.C. and Alberta waterways. Since 2011, Enbridge submitted water license applications for almost a dozen new projects, some located in the Skeena Watershed region and others along the Fraser River.

Researchers at the SkeenaWild Conservation Trust uncovered several numbered company applications and reports concerning projects that would have serious consequences for wildlife in the area. SkeenaWild executive director Greg Knox says the projects, designed to divert river water to power stations, would disrupt salmon spawning grounds and impair water flow that is crucial to sediment transport.

“These streams are constantly producing gravel in the system which the salmon require for spawning. Without the large flow through the streams, there won’t be this large gravel production, and the gravel that’s there will eventually be washed away.”

The proposed projects require the construction of tunnels and pipes used to direct water away from the river. At certain times of year, very little water flows through wide sections of the rivers. 

One of the projects, a proposal to dam a significant reservoir at the confluence of the Clore and Bernie Rivers, could put as much as eight kilometres of fish habitat in serious jeopardy.

A confidential scope report (attached below) for the Clore River Hydroelectric Project, obtained by SkeenaWild, states the power project has nothing to do with Northern Gateway. It claims the “project is not expected to connect to or interact with any other facilities or infrastructure not proposed by 8056587 Canada Inc. other than connection to the BC Hydro grid at the Point of Interconnection.”

But Knox isn’t buying it.

“It is baffling to me how they can completely ignore the fact that they are planning to drill a tunnel right beside the Northern Gateway pipeline tunnel, and build the same access road Northern Gateway would require from below the Clore Canyon to the Bernie/Clore confluence, and not mention any of this.” Three of the four proposed projects are situated within two kilometres of the proposed Northern Gateway route.

Knox said a local brought information forward about potential new independent power projects (IPPs) after the company failed to notify potentially affected First Nations. When researched the anonymous company, he discovered it was located at the same address as Enbridge’s Calgary office. Enbridge confirmed that it owned the anonymous company.

In an interview with the Vancouver Sun, Enbridge spokesperson Ivan Giesbrecht told the paper that it’s common for companies to do preliminary work using anonymous companies to remain competitive, especially with new ventures. According to SkeenaWild’s research, however, numbered companies rarely play a role in these types of project proposals. 

“In investigating, we couldn’t find anywhere that it was a common approach,” Knox said. “Most of the companies that applied for water licenses for IPPs did not use numbered companies, so it was confusing to receive Enbridge’s answer that this was common practice.”

This isn’t the first time an energy company has considered building a hydroelectric dam on the Clore River. In 2009, energy company C-Free Power Corp withdrew its application for a water license in the area when the project review failed to meet the company’s own standard for environmental care.

The letter of withdrawal (attached below) states that all C-Free’s projects are evaluated based on its four pillars: environment, First Nations, community and economic development. An environmental consultant on the project and a member of the Kitselas First Nation whose territory is in the region reported there were no barriers to fish migration anywhere along the Clore Canyon and that damming the river could cause significant damage to fish populations. The company concurred and cancelled its plans.

Other projects are located on Williams Creek, Bolton Creek and McKay Creek, all of which are important producers of Coho, Chinook, and steelhead and bull trout species.

There are an additional seven IPPs proposed for locations on the Upper Fraser River, primarily the McGregor Watershed. The cluster of proposals along the Fraser combined would trigger an environmental assessment, but several of the projects around the Skeena Watershed are small enough in scope—producing less than 50 megawatt—tho avoid triggering a provincial review. Without a review, Enbridge needs to obtain provincial crown land tenures as well as fish habitat alteration permits from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, both of which Knox says aren't especially hard to come by.

Knox added that the secrecy with which the application process has been conducted, as well as Enbridge’s failure to draw links between the IPPs and Northern Gateway is indicative of several things.

“It leads me to believe that Enbridge wanted to hide it from the public because they didn’t want it to be part of the Joint Review Panel process,” Knox said. They also knew that all of these IPP proposals were on salmon bearing streams and rivers and probably assumed there would be a lot of public concern because of the potential impacts.”

Image and files courtesy of SkeenaWild Conservation Trust.

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