Peace Valley Landowners Take B.C. Government to Court Over Site C Dam Economics

The Peace Valley Landowner Association has served a petition for judicial review asking the B.C. Supreme Court to quash the provincial environmental assessment certificate granted Oct. 14 to BC Hydro to build the $8 billion Site C dam.

Lawyer Maegan Giltrow says that in granting the environmental certificate, the ministers of Environment and of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations failed to consider the joint review panel’s assessment of the economics of the Site C project.

“Not only was the joint review panel required by law to make recommendations about cost … but the ministers were bound by law to consider those recommendations,” Giltrow said. “This goes to the core of whether the certificate should be issued.”

Assessing the economic impacts of the project was explicitly included in the scope of the joint review panel’s review, but the province ignored the panel’s recommendations on that topic, stating they were outside of the panel’s scope.

“These are not questions for another time,” Giltrow said. “Before granting the certificate, the ministers were bound to consider and weigh the whole picture.”

Questions about the economics of the Site C dam include the cost of construction, the value of the electricity, the impact on rates and alternatives to the project. In rendering its recommendations, the panel noted that Site C would likely be “the largest provincial public expenditure of the next 20 years.”

The panel found that the need for the project was not established on the timeline provided and said it didn’t have the time or resources to analyze the costs of the project. It recommended that the costs be examined by the independent B.C. Utilities Commission, which the B.C. government has subsequently refused to do.

Calling the environmental approvals “seriously flawed,” Peace Valley farmer Ken Boon told a press conference in Vancouver on Wednesday that local residents and First Nations have already received a 90-day start work notice from BC Hydro.

“We trust that the government will ensure that no work will be started while the judicial review runs its course,” he said.

The panel found that energy from Site C wouldn't be needed until 2028 at the earliest.

Boon is president of the Peace Valley Landowner Association, which has 54 members — including farmers, ranchers, oilfield workers and teachers — who are impacted by the proposed Site C dam. The landowners' case is detailed in a backgrounder on the petition for a judicial review of the Site C dam.

“Our members, many of whom have lived in the Peace River Valley for generations, are not prepared to allow the remainder of the valley to be destroyed on the basis of flawed environmental approvals,” Boon said. “We are also B.C. ratepayers and taxpayers who are deeply concerned about the cost and impact of this project on BC Hydro rates and the provincial debt.” 

Third-generation rancher Renee Ardill told the press conference that the government chose to ignore the parts of the joint review panel’s report that it didn’t like.

“It’s very, very poor business. Any one with any common sense at all would want a proper financial review before a project like this proceeds,” Ardill said.

Renee and Dick Ardill

Ranchers Renee and Dick Ardill at their Peace Valley ranch, which will be flooded if the Site C dam is built. Credit: Don Hoffmann.

The panel’s report, issued in early May, said: “Justification must rest on an unambiguous need for the power and analyses showing its financial costs being sufficiently attractive as to make tolerable the bearing of substantial environmental, social and other costs.”

The landowners argue that justification has not been achieved.

“Site C is a costly, archaic and destructive project that has been kicked around for nearly 40 years and has been turned down twice,” Boon said.

If built, the Site C dam would be the third dam on the Peace River.

The provincial government has three weeks to file a response to the landowners' petition and then a court date will be set.

Next week, the landowners will serve a similar petition to the federal court, asking it to quash the federal environmental assessment certificate.

The West Moberly First Nation is also expected to file a petition for judicial review of the Site C dam's environmental assessment certificate.

Read more in DeSmog Canada’s 12-part series on 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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