Permits to Start Construction on Site C Dam Issued Despite Pending Lawsuits

Authorizations allowing construction to begin immediately on the Site C dam on the Peace River in northeastern B.C. were issued on Tuesday by B.C.’s Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations — despite a pending legal challenge by the Treaty 8 First Nations.

This Saturday, hundreds of people in canoes and kayaks will paddle down the Peace River to protest the imminent construction of the dam and flooding of the river.

The $8.8 billion Site C dam — the most expensive public project in B.C. history — was approved by the B.C. government in December. If built, the dam will flood more than 100 kilometres of the Peace River and its tributaries, drowning agricultural land that experts say could produce fruit and vegetables for one million people.

Since the government’s decision to move forward with the project, expert voices have come out of the woodwork to speak out against the project.

Last week, the Greater Vancouver Regional District Board, representing 23 local governments and 2.5 million people, voted to ask Premier Christy Clark for a two-year moratorium on Site C. The board joins more than 30 other B.C. municipalities calling for a moratorium on the project.

“This permitting decision shows the provincial government’s disdain for B.C. ratepayers,” said Rob Botterell,  general counsel to the Peace Valley Landowner Association.  “BC Hydro’s own analysis shows that a two-year delay will save B.C. ratepayers about $200 million.  Who benefits from the urgency to construct Site C? Certainly not those of us paying the tab."

Dam Construction Will 'Indefinitely Scar' B.C.'s Relationship with First Nations

The First Nations Leadership Council recently said moving forward with the dam before the Treaty 8 legal challenge has been heard on July 20th will “indefinitely scar” B.C.’s relationship with First Nations.

This spring, energy economist Robert McCullough said that BC Hydro has dramatically underestimated the cost of producing power from Site C and that far cheaper energy alternatives are available.

Harry Swain, chair of the panel that examined Site C for the federal and provincial governments, has called the failure of the B.C. government to investigate alternatives to the dam a “dereliction of duty.” His criticism of the B.C. government's actions was called “unprecedented” by environmental law experts.

The cost of renewable alternatives have plummeted in cost in recent years and Site C’s business case assumptions are two to five years out of date. The Canadian Geothermal Energy Association says geothermal can meet all of B.C.'s future energy needs at a lower cost than Site C with fewer environmental impacts.

Despite growing opposition from experts, BC Hydro released polling on Tuesday indicating that support for the dam has increased amongst British Columbians.

The Abacus Data poll shows 59 per cent of those polled support building the Site C dam, while 22 per cent support the dam under certain circumstances. Seventeen per cent are opposed. Province-wide awareness of the Site C dam has increased significantly: 75 per cent of British Columbians surveyed are aware of Site C now, compared to 41 per cent in 2013.

The B.C. government says Site C will provide approximately 10,000 direct jobs during construction and will generate enough electricity to power about 450,000 homes per year.

However, the panel that reviewed BC Hydro’s application to build the dam found demand for the power had not been proven on the timeline provided and called for an independent review of costs by the B.C. Utilities Commission — a call the B.C. government has ignored.

Early indications are that some of Site C’s power will be used to power natural gas operations in northeast B.C. For at least the first four years, demand for the power will be insufficient so a portion will be exported at a projected loss of $800 million.

Photo: This section of the Peace River will be flooded if the Site C dam is built.

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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