The provincial and federal governments have issued an environmental approval certificate for the Site C dam despite acknowledging it will cause significant adverse environmental effects.
“Those effects are justified in the circumstances,” says the decision statement signed by Leona Aglukkaq, Canada’s minister of environment.
The province must still decide whether to proceed with the 1,100-megawatt project based on an investment decision, expected by the end of this year.
“The final decision still has to go through the cabinet, so we’ll still be working to convince them it’s not the best decision,” said Andrea Morison of the Peace Valley Environment Association, a group that has fought the dam for decades.
The $8 billion project would be the third dam on the Peace River and would be located seven kilometres from Fort St. John, B.C.
The dam has been opposed by local farmers, ranchers and the Treaty 8 First Nations because it will flood 87 kilometres of the Peace River, impacting wildlife and flooding 30,000 acres of farmland, including an area the size of the city of Victoria within the Agricultural Land Reserve.
West Moberly Chief Roland Willson has already vowed to challenge the decision in court and has said the province can’t have both the Site C dam and liquefied natural gas (LNG) development, which requires gas from Treaty 8 territory.
The environmental assessment certificate is subject to 77 conditions, including establishing a fund of $20 million to compensate for lost agricultural lands and activities.
In May, a federal-provincial Joint Review Panel issued its report on Site C. The panel was ambivalent in its findings, saying both that the dam could provide cheap power but also that the costs needed to be examined further and that it’s not clear that the power will be needed on the timeline provided.
“The Joint Review Panel considering the dam’s impacts determined that they are so significant that only an ‘unambiguous need’ for the power would justify them. And BC Hydro did not demonstrate such a need,” said Karsten Heuer, president of the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative (Y2Y). “We don’t understand the basis on which the B.C. and federal governments could issue their approvals.”
Y2Y has argued that the Site C reservoir would seriously impede wildlife movement in the region.
“The Peace River Valley is located at the narrowest width of the Yellowstone to Yukon region and the existing Williston Reservoir already is a major blockage to wildlife movement,” Heuer said.
The joint review panel’s report included a recommendation to refer the project for review by the independent B.C. Utilities Commission, saying the panel didn’t have the time or resources to comment on the cost of the project.
“All British Columbia Hydro ratepayers should be concerned about that,” said Gwen Johansson, mayor of the District of Hudson’s Hope.
The panel also found that the province has failed to look at alternatives to the Site C dam for the past three decades. New maps released this month indicate B.C. has enough low-impact geothermal energy to power the entire province.