Judicial Review of Site C Dam Approval May Delay Project Start

The Peace Valley Landowner Association is celebrating a small victory following a Federal Court decision that four applications for judicial reviews of the massive Site C dam, planned for the Peace River, will be heard this summer.

The Association and representatives of B.C. and Alberta Treaty 8 First Nations appeared before Federal Court last week to oppose a BC Hydro motion to have the cases heard in May because of the financial implications if the Site C construction schedule was delayed. BC Hydro wants to start work on the $8.8-billion project in June.

The Landowner Association and First Nations argued that, if the hearings were fast-tracked, there would be insufficient time to prepare legal arguments and cross-examination plans.

The court ruled that the applications for judicial review – brought by the PVLA, Mikisew Cree, Athabasca Chipewyan, Prophet River, Doig River, West Moberly and McLeod Lake First Nations – will be set for this summer, depending on court availability, and will be heard consecutively by one judge. That could stretch the hearings into late summer.

Ken Boon, PVLA president, said the decision shows the court is not going to rush or let BC Hydro set the agenda.

“The government knew when they made this decision in December that these court cases had already been filed,” he said.

It is not the Association’s problem that BC Hydro may have to adjust its’ schedule, he added.

First Nations, whose application names several federal ministers and BC Hydro, are claiming the dam will destroy their traditional territory and way of life and allege the federal government has violated their treaty rights by failing to consider the potential impact.

The PVLA application claims environmental approvals of the dam were seriously flawed and that the two levels of government failed to consider the joint review panel’s assessment of the economics.

Site C, the third dam on the Peace River, will flood 5,550 hectares of land and generate enough power for 450,000 homes, but the joint review panel found the power would not be needed until 2028 at the earliest.

Meanwhile, B.C. Supreme Court has ordered that petitions for a judicial review by the PVLA and B.C. Treaty 8 First Nations will be heard by a single judge.

The Association’s review petition is set to be heard April 20 and no date has yet been set for the B.C. Treaty 8 hearing.

The two courts are involved because the Site C project was approved by the federal and provincial governments.

As the Site C approval wends its way through the courts, the Canadian Geothermal Energy Association is continuing its campaign to persuade the government to look more seriously at the potential of geothermal and on Wednesday released technical information it compiled for the report “Geothermal Energy: The Renewable and Cost Effective Alternative to Site C.”

CanGEA chair Alison Thompson said that the geothermal unit energy cost of $56-$73 MWh compares positively to the updated Site C cost to ratepayers of $58-$61MWh.

“If the B.C. government treats geothermal energy as a priority, not an afterthought, geothermal will provide firm energy beginning in 2018 at a lower cost than Site C and in a manner that benefits ratepayers, taxpayers, First Nations, the economy and the environment, not to mention having a carbon footprint that is lower than Site C,” she said.

Image Credit: B.C. Government

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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