Construction on Site C dam begins despite First Nations opposition

Construction on Site C dam begins despite First Nations opposition
A sign sits on farmland in the Peace River valley, showing the area that will be flooded by the Site C dam reservoir in northern B.C. Permits were granted last week to begin construction on the $9-billion hydro project, which will be the third on the Peace River.Emma Gilchrist.

The government of British Columbia granted the final approvals for construction to begin on phase one of BC Hydro’s massive Site C dam on the Peace River last week, despite a recent international call to hold off on projects that could harm the Peace-Athabasca Delta.

Twenty-four permits were issued last week, authorizing timber removal, road building and site preparation to pave the way for the $9-billion project, set to be built over the next eight years. The province said it has completed consultation with the necessary First Nations and is ready to move ahead on the project, which received regulatory approval last October.

But representatives of the Mikisew Cree First Nation in Fort Chipewyan say it’s premature to be starting construction on a project that is now getting attention at the international level.

“We think it’s too early; we don’t think they should be starting any construction,” said Melody Lepine, director of government and industry relations for the Mikisew Cree.

UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee asked Canada earlier this month to avoid making decisions on any project that could have irreversible impacts on Wood Buffalo National Park in northeastern Alberta, in response to concerns brought forth by the Mikisew last December that want to see the world heritage site designated as in danger.

Wood Buffalo National Park contains the Peace-Athabasca Delta, which the Mikisew Cree say has already been negatively impacted by flow regulation on the Peace River caused by BC Hydro’s two existing dams.

A mission from UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee is scheduled to visit the park to do a review of the purported impacts and talk to the stakeholders. At the same time, Canada is required to carry out its own strategic environmental assessment of the world heritage site, including possible management actions.

“If the findings come out of the UNESCO mission and from Canada’s assessment that, in fact, the world heritage site – the park and the delta – are under threat because of impacts, then does BC Hydro really want to spend billions of dollars constructing a dam that they’re going to have to take down?” Lepine asked. “It seems a little too premature to consider construction at this time.”

Mikisew heads to court next week

Apart from its request to UNESCO, Mikisew has filed a judicial review against the hydro project, citing inadequate consultation. Though the First Nation had repeatedly asked for the impacts on the delta and Mikisew harvesting rights to be included in the Site C review, Lepine said that assessment was never done.

“They failed to assess the impacts on the Mikisew Cree,” Lepine said. “Yeah there were meetings, yeah there were exchanges of information between us and Canada; however, they’ve never taken into consideration anything that we were requesting.”

For example, the regional study area for Site C only went as far down as Peace Point – the river’s junction with the Slave River – and not into the delta.

“We asked for them to include the delta in their assessment to assess the potential impacts on water levels in the delta, and we asked for that because that’s a very important ecosystem to the Mikisew and we see declining water levels from their original projects. They didn’t even want to look at the delta, to include it in their assessments. So now for them to say consultation is adequate and complete, it doesn’t make sense to us,” Lepine said.

The Mikisew will be heading to Vancouver for the hearing in federal court on July 20-21.

Theirs is one of six court cases still pending against the proposed dam. One is being led by the Peace Valley Landowner Association, which represents the farmers and landowners who will be displaced when the 100-km area is flooded by the Site C reservoir; the other four are by First Nations in the proposed dam’s vicinity.

BC Hydro expects construction on the project will generate approximately 10,000 jobs. The dam is promised to create enough electricity to power around 450,000 homes annually.

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