The Site C dam is a complicated topic. There are many issues and it takes more time than any one of us has to fully grasp them. So, a group of citizens called the Peace Valley Environment Association (PVEA) have pooled their resources to bring the dam’s potential impacts to light. PVEA wants to ensure that the ecosystem and agricultural values that would be impacted by the dam are adequately considered in the environmental assessment of the project. They’re confident that if they can disprove the unsubstantiated arguments behind the political push for Site C and reveal the multitude of negative impacts, the project will never be approved.
Good decisions must be based on good science. To this end, the PVEA gathered resources to contract lawyers and agricultural experts to review the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) prepared by BC Hydro for Site C. Given that the document weighed in at a hefty 15,000 pages, the review could hardly be comprehensive, so PVEA’s experts focused on a high-level review of key issues concerning agriculture.
The EIS is the cornerstone of the public assessment process. Its purpose is to provide sufficient information for the decision makers and the public to properly assess the project’s impacts and how to avoid or mitigate those impacts. PVEA’s reviewers found that it falls far short of that mark, for many reasons.
First, there are significant gaps in the information necessary to assess the Project’s potential impacts. Especially concerning is the fact that BC Hydro based their evaluation of the productive potential of Peace River Valley farmland on data from a single year. A significant flaw with this approach is that the data doesn’t reflect the fact that farmers have made decisions not to farm the land at its full potential due to the threat of flooding. The shadow of Site C has impacted their decisions on crop production for over 50 years. Farmers require a level of certainty that the land, labour and infrastructure they invest in will be useful over many years. If the land is lost due to flooding, then they will lose their investment. Additionally, since Hydro has undervalued that land, their compensation to farmers for flooding their farms also risks being undervalued.
Most Peace Region residents are familiar with the continuing erosion of the shoreline at Williston Reservoir. Flooding the Peace River Valley would also cause significant erosion, the rates of which cannot be predicted with certainty. This uncertainty is not addressed in the EIS, nor is the question of how this would impact farmers as they work to plan their crops along the edge of the reservoir.
BC Hydro states that they will supply mitigation and compensation to landowners. One of their proposed mitigation measures is to move valuable soil from the Valley bottom to higher elevations. However, the real value of soil in the Valley is due in large part to its physical location, within the warmer microclimate. Also, BC Hydro has not provided any evidence that relocating soils would have any impact on farming in upland areas
In terms of compensation, property values have decreased due to the potential impact of the dam, so impacted landowners won’t receive full value for their land. Additionally, because of the gaps in information and the unsubstantiated assumptions through which BC Hydro reached their conclusions, the details concerning compensation are significantly lacking. They have not identified the full range of potential impacts, adequate timelines over which mitigation and compensation will be made available and further, there is no process to ensure that these measures will be applied.
In total, PVEA’s comments on the EIS filled nearly 50 pages. Additionally, over 4,000 comments were submitted by citizens, governments and aboriginal groups. The depth of concerns related to Site C’s impacts on agriculture go much further than I have been able to present here. Additionally, there are many other subject areas of concern that have been assessed by experts.
Andrea Morison is coordinator of the Peace Valley Environment Association at www.peacevalley.ca, or Twitter, @SavePeaceValley.