Peace River dam clears environmental hurdle

$7.9 billion project It now goes to B.C. government with 80 conditions, including compensation for farmland

B.C. Hydro’s proposed hydroelectric dam on the Peace River cleared a major environmental hurdle Oct. 14, but the Site C project is not a done deal.

Federal and provincial governments granted the $7.9 billion project environmental certificates along with a list of 80 conditions that must be met before the project can go ahead.

It’s now up to the British Columbia government to decide if it should go ahead with the dam that would produce 1,100 megawatts of energy a year, enough to power about 450,000 homes. A decision is expected in November or December.

During a news conference, B.C.’s environment minister Mary Polak said the province believes the benefits of building the third hydroelectric dam on the Peace River in northern B.C. outweigh the environmental risks.

The same day, federal environment minister Leona Aglukkaq issued a news release expressing similar views.

A joint review panel report released earlier in the year said the 83 kilo-metre reservoir behind the dam would significantly impact fish, plants and farmland. If built, the dam would flood 107 km of the Peace River and its tributaries. It will affect 32,000 acres of agricultural land, including rich river bottom land.

Ken Boon, who lives along the Peace River, south of Fort St. John, where the dam is proposed, said he is confident the dam will not proceed.

The initial cost of the dam and the cost of fulfilling the 80 conditions will give the provincial government pause. He believes the project has little economic benefit.

“Every one of those conditions costs money.”

Some of the conditions include establishing a $20 million fund to compensate for lost agricultural land, developing a wetland mitigation and compensation plan, developing an aboriginal business participation strategy and using construction methods that would mitigate adverse effects on wildlife and the habitat.

Boon said money would be better spent developing smaller projects across the province where the electricity is needed, not ruining a river valley for questionable energy requirements.

“It puts the responsibility on the government. If they decided to go ahead and things go sideways, it’s going to be their problem,” said Boon.

“I don’t believe they have a social licence to move forward.”

It’s not the first time the Site C dam project has been proposed. The B.C. Utilities Commission turned down the project in the 1980s.

Even if the project is approved, it will likely be tied up in court because of opposition from First Nations communities, which are opposed to the project.

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