Site C injunction latest chapter of project’s contentious history

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It seems like every week that new contentions arise surrounding the controversial Site C Energy Project.

The project, a proposal to dam the Peace River in Northern British Columbia, has been flooding headlines for nearly a decade, and taking up provincial budget plans for three more.

And while newspapers and political pundits talk about the dam as if we all know the long, arduous history behind it, the truth is that few truly understand the story behind and around the Site C Dam.

Click the image to see a full timeline of the Site C Dam.

Click the image to see a full timeline of the Site C Dam.

First, the facts. The Site C Dam site lies within the Peace River Valley, just a few kilometers southwest of Fort St. John. It was first proposed in the 1950s along with two other Peace River dams, but while the W.A.C. Bennett (Site A) and Peace Canyon (Site B) dams were built, an electricity surplus postponed construction on the third dam until former B.C. premier Gordon Campbell resurrected the project in 2010.

The dam is slated to be completed in 2024 and is projected to produce 5 100 gigawatt hours of electricity each year — the amount of energy needed to power about 450 000 homes per year in B.C.

But for all of the promises made by both B.C. Hydro and the B.C. government that the dam will help meet the energy needs of the province over the next few decades, critics are concerned that the project is not as squeaky clean as it seems.

The project’s cost has ballooned from $5 billion to $9 billion in nine years. B.C. Hydro calls the Site C Dam a clean energy project, but critics argue that emissions from the construction of the dam outweigh any benefit. B.C. Hydro also says the dam will create jobs — and crowded job fairs in Alberta and B.C. prove their point — but critics point to the destruction of farmland as a loss that’s too great to bear.

Most importantly, B.C. Hydro’s plan requires flooding lands belonging to several First Nations groups — the members of which claim that the Peace River and its surrounding lands are part of an area protected by Treaty 8, a treaty signed between several First Nations and Queen Victoria in 1899.

Protesters have camped out on the steps of B.C. courthouses and on the banks of the Peace River for several months now, but it appears as though B.C. Hydro is winning the war. Construction on the dam began in the summer of 2015, and on Feb. 29, B.C. Hydro won an injunction allowing the company to remove protestors from the site of the project.

Opponents of the dam are preparing to continue to fight in the B.C. courts as well as call on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to intervene in the construction of the dam. Trudeau’s comments upon being elected suggest he takes First Nations land claims a lot more seriously than the previous government, but whether this one is willing to be intimately involved in provincial affairs is yet to be seen.

Unfortunately, it seems whichever side wins — whether the dam is completed or not — the results will be devastating. If the dam is constructed, First Nations land treaties take a huge blow and several nations risk losing traditional lands. If the dam is stopped, the government will have wasted several billion dollars from generations of taxpayers and will most likely turn to fossil fuels to fill the energy gap left by the dam.

The outcome will likely depend on what British Columbians favour more – short-term and long-term job creation and a move towards (dubiously) clean energy, or sustainability, self-efficiency, and the respect of First Nations land claims.

But if the history of the project so far is anything to go by, don’t expect a simple or easy solution.

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  • Bernice Heather

    with all the filth, devastation of Turtle Island, selling water to nestle, sewage being dumped into the waters, mine spills in our lakes and waters, fuel and glue spills into our waters, pollution of air and lands, immigration of more people from climate change in other parts of the Earth, Elections of undesirables in the US causing more people to immigrate here, it will be more necessary to grow more foods and have clean water to drink. Turtle Island only has so much carrying capacity. If we have already reached peak oil than why so much expense to carry out, via pipelines, what little there is left All signs indicate that it is way past time to put our energy into think tanks of how we can build local businesses to support that are sustainable and more in harmony with nature, to stop creating ever more climate change which is not good of any life if we and our future generations want to survive as dams being built in the south are creating death to life in the north. Warmer temperatures in the north can unleash methane and mining toxic wastes that are a danger to all life on earth. To put money and power blinders on now and carry on business as usual is not a very good idea anymore. Lip service at Paris climate change talks has to transform into action. I stand with all who are for clean air, clean waters, clean lands, organic , non gmo,d food production, no hormone fed livestock…self sufficient communities not reliant on corporations and their ilk to protect our lives and livelihoods and for future generations and the Mother of ALL OF US, Mother Earth,.I used to teach that the Earth is Alive but i see where she is dying now and we have no place else to go, there is no away like Winona LaDuke says in the video titled, Becoming Fully Human: The Covenant of the Original Instructions, with John Trudell..The Bioneers: /revolution from the heart of nature Series VIII.

  • Randal Hadland

    This isn’t about long term or short term job creation. What ever energy future we choose will need paying jobs. BC Hydro and the BC Liberals have chosen probably the worst option to make that kind of assertion a poster boy for the next election. There are more jobs in efficiency and small scale energy projects than megaprojects like site c. There are far more jobs long term in farming all the land that would be wrecked by this dam than the dam would ever produce.

    The Government has consistently denied the people of the Province the right and ability to be a part of the discussion of our ecological future. The Cabinet decree that set aside the BC Utilities Commission, the Cabinet decree that set aside the Agricultural Land Commission, the truncated “Environmental Review Process” set up under the auspices of the Harper Cons new improved environmental assessment process. And even then, when this government still couldn’t get the answer they wanted from this process, because Hydro could not prove their case, this Government chose to take additional un-examined private evidence as the proof they needed that the dam was a good thing. They then proceeded to refuse to make that information open to public review.

    It looks more and more like criminal behaviour.

  • Good article – except that there is no “energy gap” to fill. British Columbia produces more electricity than we use, and that will likely be the case for quite some time to come. It’s why the Environmental Assessment report on the Site C Dam said that BC Hydro had not made the case that the power from Site C was needed. In the future, if we did need more electrical energy – there are better ways to get it that would not require BC to “turn to fossil fuels” as the article suggests. BC has a wealth of geothermal resources as well as smaller wind, solar and hydro energy resources that BC Hydro could consider – if they weren’t prevented from doing so by the BC government, which is the case now. Stop Site C Dam? Yes please!