Site C – a project that shouldn’t be built
Perceptions by Gerry Warner
The sparsely populated Peace River valley contains some of the richest agricultural land in BC, is home to the furthest north grain elevators in the world and teams with fish and wildlife along its scenic shores.
The valley is also one of the biggest electrical producers in the province with the W.A.C. Bennett and Peace River Canyon dams generating 3,424 Megawatts of electricity, almost a third of all the power BC Hydro produces in BC.
Phew! Don’t you think that’s enough? Well, if you do, you’re out of step with the government of BC which on Oct. 19, 2014 gave the go-ahead to the controversial $7.9 billion Site C dam, which will flood more than 5,500 hectares of prime agricultural and 83 km of wilderness river valley and bury countless First Nation cultural sites and artifacts that have yet to be studied.
Late last year BC Hydro sent crews in to begin clearing the site even though several legal cases are currently before the courts questioning the legality of the proposed dam. This set off a firestorm of protest that has resulted in arrests at the site and a pledge by First Nation leaders and environmentalists across Canada to fight to the bitter end to stop the controversial project.
Union of BC Indian Chiefs Grand Chief Stewart Phillip expressed his bitterness in a protest at the site Monday. "It is absolutely unacceptable that BC Hydro is relentlessly clear-cutting forests right now to prepare for the flooding of the Peace River Valley, which will destroy archaeological sites and eradicate prime farmland," Famed environmentalist David Suzuki was at the site too and expressed frustration that the BC government was pressing ahead with the project despite all the criticism. “I was one of many, many people 30 years ago that was opposing the dam at Site C — exactly the same dam and we won that one . . .So I can't figure out what the hell — we already had this battle before and we're having it again."
Suzuki’s lament should sound familiar to Kootenay residents, who have also seen politicians in Victoria, Ottawa and Washington D.C. decide that the best use of the land they live on is to flood their valleys and send the power thousands of miles away to people elsewhere in BC and the U.S. More than 2,000 West Kootenay residents were rooted out of their homes for building of the Columbia River Treaty dams and hundreds of First Nation residents were similarly displaced for construction of the W.A.C. Bennett Dam, which was the largest earth-filled structure in the world when it was built in the 1960’s.
These politicians are awfully good at moving dirt, but not nearly so good when it comes to treating people. In fact, the people in the way of these giant dam mega-projects in the Kootenays got hardly anything out of the projects until creation of the Columbia Basin Trust (CBT) by the former NDP government of Premier Mike Harcourt in 1995. If the Site C project goes ahead, will the people impacted by that project be so lucky? Or will it again take 30 years for the politicians to remember them?
Unfortunately politics plays a major role in these projects and the politics involved in the Site C controversy are extremely muddy. If Site C goes ahead, and I don't mind saying I hope it doesn’t, it will generate enough power to light 400,000 homes. There are barely 40,000 people living in B.C.’s Peace River valley so clearly the power is not needed for them. So where will the power go? Obviously it’ll go to the Lower Mainland where more than 2 million people live almost 2,000 km from the power’s source. Does that make sense? Clearly it doesn’t.
So where does this leave us? There are only two possibilities. To power up a LNG plant even though not a single one has gone ahead in BC yet and the current economic climate makes any LNG plant in the province highly unlikely in the near future and maybe ever. The other possibility is exporting power to Alberta where most electricity is produced by burning coal. There is just one little problem with this. Alberta hasn’t asked for our power.
And where does this leave Mr. and Mrs. Taxpayer of BC? In a very deep financial hole if we go ahead with Site C which is an economically foolish and environmentally destructive project.
Gerry Warner is a retired journalist, who remembers well waiting for Columbia River benefits.