Government decision to be delivered later this year

Mike Carter, Chetwynd Echo

CHETWYND – Public Consultations on the Site C Clean Energy Project’s Environmental Impact Statement were held in Chetwynd last week at the Pomeroy Hotel.

Concerns about the elimination of culturally significant First Nations lands, increased traffic through the District and the interruption of migration patterns of certain fish species were highlighted by Dave Conway, Community Relations Manager for BC Hydro.

Hosted by the BC Environmental Assessment Office (BCEAO), and the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA), the open house was an opportunity for residents to have their questions answered by the BC Hydro’s subject matter experts and representatives from both assessment agencies.

A government decision on whether the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is satisfactory will be delivered later in the year, followed by Joint Review Panel hearings where the public will again have a chance to voice their concerns or support for the project.

As part of the Environmental Assessment process to consider the potential for environmental, economic, social, health and heritage effects of the proposed project and the measures that may mitigate these effects, the 15,000 page EIS was prepared by BC Hydro and submitted to the public Jan. 28.

Despite some significant impacts, Conway believes the project is still justifiable in the face of the growing demand for energy the province will face in the coming years.

“I think at the end of the day BC Hydro feels that despite the fact that there’s a few residual effects; our conclusion is that the project should move forward as a result of that need,” Conway said in an interview with CJDC Radio last week.

The District of Chetwynd is likely to be most affected by the transportation of “riprap”—rock that will be placed on the upstream side of the project site to protect the earth filled dam from erosion—which BC Hydro proposes to collect from the West Pine Quarry off of Highway 97.

For the purposes of the Environmental Impact Study (EIS), the most impactful option was assessed, which would involve transportation of the rock to the project site by truck through Chetwynd, resulting in a significant increase in traffic volumes and potential delays through town.

“The traffic flow would impact the community and the District has expressed to us their concerns related to that,” Conway said.

But he quickly added that Chetwynd could also stand to benefit from the activities on the south bank of the development as well.

“The activities on the south bank are all related to concrete requirements and so you would have a fair amount of goods, services and workers that would come from Chetwynd as well. We’ve proposed things like busing [to work camps], a park and ride approach, and additional housing needs or social housing needs, that’s what we’ve heard from the District as well.”

Conway also spoke to the impact the Site C dam will have on the bull trout.

The fish species is threatened internationally, but is in abundance in the Peace River according to the Ministry of Environment.

The bull trout will face “significant residual impacts” because the dam will block access on their migratory route from the main stream of the Peace River into their spawning area in the upper Halfway River watershed.

“What we’re proposing as mitigation is to actually scoop them up, put them in water tanker trucks and transfer them” to their spawning site on the other side of the dam Conway said.

This type of fish transport is being done in other areas in North America.

One of the largest such projects is taking place in the south of the province to replenish the population of steelhead trout and salmon in the Columbia River Basin.

Popular Science Magazine reported in April 2012 that in order to aid migration on the Deschutes River in Oregon, engineers working for Portland General Electric developed a facility to transport the fish 10 miles down stream.

In 2011, scientists recorded the first fish to return to the river basin to spawn, an event that hadn’t happened in 40 years.

Transportation of the bull trout in the Peace River would come at a cost, Conway says, but there is no other way to mitigate the effect. “You can’t put in fish ladders, they are not an aggressive swimmer like salmon.” The elimination of First Nations lands along the Halfway River and Bear Flat areas as a result of flooding caused by the dam is perhaps the most devastating.

“Of course, Aboriginal groups are concerned about that,” Conway said.

“In this particular case its one of those things where you can’t mitigate that because flooding will eliminate those locations. It doesn’t affect all Aboriginal groups but certainly the ones in and around the immediate project are like Saulteau and West Moberly.”

It is not clear yet what compensation First Nations will receive, however BC Hydro says it is open to discussing negotiated, private contractual agreements called Impact Benefit Agreements (IBAs) that serve to document in binding form, the benefits that a local community can expect from the development of a local resource in exchange for its support and cooperation.

IBAs were used to facilitate the development of the Northwest Territories’ three diamond mines at Ekati, Diavik and Snap Lake, as well as Inco’s Voisey’s Bay project in Labrador.

“We’re responsible through the environmental impact guidelines which are the terms of reference, to be consulting with 29 First Nations. Most of the focus has been on the BC side, and then immediately down stream on the Alberta side,” Conway said.

“We presently have agreements with 16 of the 29. I’ve talked to everybody and made offers of consultation agreements with the remaining 13, [but they] haven’t taken us up on it. Consultation with First Nations is a separate but parallel process. There is constitutional [obligations]. There is established rights and title.”