“We’ve been trying to sit down and explore our options, but they haven’t done that,” said Chief Roland Willson of the West Moberly First Nations.
“We’re not opposed to the power or the money or the development, we’re opposed to the lack of sensibility from BC Hydro and the provincial government.”
Willson and numerous other First Nations groups are consolidating their influence and resources to combat BC Hydro’s plans to dam the Peace River for the third time in 50 years.
According to BC Hydro, the Site C dam will help provide clean power to 10,000 homes, but Willson, among others, doesn’t believe it for a second.
“When BC stands up and says ‘we need power for 10,000 homes’ that is one thing,” Willson told The Journal. “But when you know the power is really going to the five mines in the Horn River area, that is a very different thing.”
The plans for a Site C dam were originally drawn up and proposed in 1980 by BC Hydro and were denied shortly thereafter and rejected again in 1989.
“BC Hydro is a net importer of electricity, so during peak load periods, primarily November through the end of February, we have periods where we are importing electricity from Alberta and the United States,” said Dave Conway, community relations manager for BC Hydro. “We have to do this in order to meet our own domestic needs because we can’t meet our peak load demand.”
Concerns have been raised by numerous First Nations, environmental and preservation groups regarding the effect that a third dam on the Peace River would have on Site C’s immediate area, along with ecosystems and communities downstream as far as the Peace-Athabasca Delta.
“This is a wildlife corridor and all of this development has had a massive impact,” said Willson. “Where they want to build this dam is the place that animals can move north-south unmolested.”
BC Hydro has conducted research on all aspects of the environment and ecosystem that could be affected by the construction of the dam.
“If you built this dam on any other unregulated river, it would be, one, an unregulated river and two, you would have to build for water storage,” said Conway. “Here, you don’t have to do that.”
However, for First Nations like West Moberely, this is simply not enough.
“We have never engaged in a discussion of consequences with BC Hydro,” said Willson. “And they have never done a cumulative assessment.”
BC Hydro has presented a 137-page project description that includes a complete catalogue of wildlife species in the area, their numbers and overall health, but does not determine the effects constructing the dam would have on habitat.
After collecting and interpreting the information, BC Hydro will identify the most at-risk species and proceed with even more in-depth research and study, but as of yet these steps have not taken place
This lack of cumulative assessment coupled with what Willson calls “fear mongering,” has meant the relationship between BC hydro and First Nations isn’t exactly cordial.
“The province is basically going around fear mongering,” said Willson. “They are threatening brownouts and power shortages if the dam isn’t constructed.”
“The Site C dam would power up to 550,000 homes,” Conway told The Journal. “As I’ve said before, we are in a position of need and we have to rectify that. I can’t comment on exactly what will be done if and when Site C would be constructed.”
The proposed dam would stand 60m high and 1,100m long with a 900 megawatt capacity producing 4,600 gigawatts per year.
Project completion dates for the Site C dam are slated for 2020-2021, but there is no guarantee that both the provincial and federal governments will give the project the green light.