As Site C Decision Looms, Peace Valley Locals Agonize Over Potential Loss of Homes, Livelihoods

Days away from a final decision on Site C, Peace Valley landowners have launched a “Home for the Holidays” campaign featuring photographs of families who would lose their homes to the $9 billion dam and appealing to the NDP government to terminate the project.

Ken and Arlene Boon, who appear in one of the Christmas card-like photos standing on the steps of their third generation farmhouse overlooking the Peace River, said 70 valley residents are waiting “on pins and needles” to find out if the project will be cancelled, a decision Premier John Horgan said he will announce before the end of December.

“It’s tough,” Ken Boon told DeSmog Canada. “I know there are a lot of people right now who are expecting the worst but we are definitely not throwing in the towel considering what we’ve all been through.”

“We haven’t focused on Christmas,” said Arlene Boon, a grandmother of four. “It’s not important right now.”

Ken and Arlene Boon in a 'Home for the Holidays' postcard circulated on social media.

The Boon’s farmhouse, built by Arlene’s grandfather, was expropriated last December for a Site C highway relocation but the former Liberal government gave the couple permission to remain in their home until after last May’s provincial election.

The new NDP government subsequently granted the Boons what Arlene called a “stay of execution,” allowing them to live in their home while the watchdog B.C. Utilities Commission (BCUC) conducted an independent review of the project and pending a final decision on Site C.

The review disclosed among many other issues that Site C is over budget, falling behind schedule, burdened by financial and legal issues with its major civil works contractor, and beset with geotechnical difficulties — only two years into a nine-year construction timeline.

“I just find it really hard to believe that the government could make any decision other than to terminate Site C,” said Ken Boon, president of the Peace Valley Landowner Association that represents 70 valley residents who would lose property to Site C’s reservoir.

“I find it frustrating that the lobbyists have come out in full force: paid lobbyists who get access to the key ministers and Horgan,” Boon said, referring to recent efforts by construction trade unions to discredit some of the findings of the BCUC report.

Caroline Beam, who appears on one of the “Home for the Holidays” social media posts with her husband and three sons, said waiting for a final decision has been extremely stressful for her family and is taking its toll on the emotions of her children, aged 7, 11 and 13. They would lose their riverside home near Hudson’s Hope to Site C.

“They have these little wish pyramids and I peeked in and sure enough out of all the things my kids could be wishing for at Christmas time they are wishing for Site C to be stopped,” Beam said in an interview.

“They love their home, they love the valley, they love the river…We have the most amazing home. We could not possibly ask for more. We live in paradise,” said Beam, a school teacher whose great-grandparents lost their home and ranch to the W.A.C. Bennett dam in the 1960s.

“It’s pretty fresh and raw right now. I’m pretty much just doing the best I can to hold it together…If [Site C] moves forward right now, what does that say about our system and our politicians? How do you make your child grow up not cynical?”

Farmers Colin Meek and Leslee Jardine, whose home was expropriated earlier this year for a Site C highway relocation, said the past several years have been very taxing for their family and they are “just patiently waiting” for the final decision. They were also allowed to stay in their house pending a final verdict on the project.

As with other affected landowners and First Nations, the couple expects to learn about the outcome through the media and not directly from a BC Hydro or government representative.

Meek and Jardine, like other families in the Cache Creek area, have had to contend not only with the loss of their farmland but also with disruptive clear-cut logging — in their case, of a spruce and poplar forest that fringed their property — that took place earlier this year for the new $530 million highway route.

“The worst part of it is that it’s changed how we live,” said Jardine. “We can see our house from the highway now and we can hear the traffic.”

“I’m hoping they do the right thing and cancel it. I’m trying to be positive.”

The Peace Valley Landowner Association and two Treaty 8 First Nations have repeatedly asked BC Hydro for the detailed documents about why the new highway route was chosen over a second shortlisted route. The centreline of the new route would cut through the Boon’s farmhouse, the Meek farmhouse, the Boon’s family run campground, and a First Nations cultural area.

BC Hydro has declined to release the detailed documents that outline the relative merits and costs of the two shortlisted routes, saying that the chosen route will affect less agricultural land and offer more passing opportunities for drivers.

Even if Site C is approved, the Cache Creek highway relocation will still be a matter of contention.

B.C.’s Environmental Assessment Office ruled in late August that BC Hydro’s design for the new highway bridge at Cache Creek is out of compliance with its Site C environmental assessment certificate. The BCUC review highlighted the Cache Creek bridge and highway route as a potential source of additional cost overruns.

The EAO also ruled that BC Hydro must consult with First Nations on mitigation for a cultural area, sweat lodge and grave sites impacted by the proposed highway route. The West Moberly and Prophet River First Nations have said that the desecration of gravesites is “not acceptable” in their culture and that the only feasible mitigation is to move the highway route.

The First Nations also stated that a rerouting of the highway would not alleviate their opposition to Site C, which they say is an unjustified infringement of their constitutionally protected rights under Treaty 8. If the project goes ahead, they say they provincial government will face a $1 billion lawsuit.

The landowners said they are circulating the Christmas-themed cards on social media because some of the debate about Site C has focused on the optics of construction workers receiving “pink slips” before Christmas.

“It’s not about having a job, it’s about having a home,” said Beam. “The valley is irreplacable.”

Yesterday BC Hydro released its Site C jobs figures for October, showing that 400 workers were dismissed after it published widely-circulated figures for September.

According to the Peace River Hydro Partnership, the main civil works contractor for the project, almost 100 workers were laid off in October and early November. The layoffs of 30 people in early November were “part of a series of planned scheduled lay-offs” over the winter, according to a statement the partnership emailed to DeSmog Canada.

BC Hydro has still not stated how many days or weeks a worker must be employed to be included in monthly jobs statistics, and whether or not dismissed workers are counted in Site C employment statistics in any given month.

The October jobs tally shows 1,974 people employed by Site C. About 475 are either “engineers” or on BC Hydro’s Site C project team. Contract engineers account for an additional 210 jobs.

Image: Ken Boon at his home in the Peace Valley. Photo: Garth Lenz | DeSmog Canada

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