The City of Fort St. John appears ready to support the Site C dam project – if BC Hydro is willing to consider a long list of suggestions put forth by the city council.
Mayor Lori Ackerman told the Alaska Highway News that the City has not yet taken an official stance on the controversial project, but a position paper released by the council on Friday contains language that strongly indicates that they believe this project is in the best interests of Fort St. John.
“The importance of Site C in meeting British Columbia’s future domestic and industrial power needs is fully acknowledged by the Council of Fort St. John,” reads the introduction to the paper.
At the heart of the document are four principles, designed to ensure that “the project provides benefits that are in keeping with Council’s long-term vision for the community.”
It holds that the council will continue to be the authority for matters concerning Fort St. John. It also says that any financial burden will not be borne by present or future residents, and that the benefits it provides to the community must be “consistent with the City’s vision.”
The second principle indicates support of the project: “The City’s long-term plans of building community will be enhanced through Site C.”
However, the mayor contends that the position paper was not intended to include the City’s stance on the controversial project.
When asked to clarify the City’s position on the Site C project, Ackerman replied: “This is a position paper in favour of Fort St. John. It means that should this dam be built it will not impact detrimentally on Fort St. John.”
The paper concludes with the line: “While the City fully understands the need for Site C, it must first and foremost be proactive in protecting and promoting the interests of its citizens, and ensure that the City is better off in the long term with Site C.”
The majority of the paper outlines the ways in which the City hopes to benefit from the project.
“The City is prepared to use all its influence and jurisdiction to ensure that the City comes out better off than it went in should this project go ahead,” said Ackerman.
The decision about whether the Site C dam should be built is outside of the City’s jurisdiction, but there is no doubt that the project will impact local residents.
The council would like BC Hydro to take the needs of Fort St. John into account when evaluating the project, and suggests a protocol that “proposes a more equitable sharing of benefits.”
The City would like the staging areas, major work camps and powerhouse to be inside the boundaries of Fort St. John. This would ensure that issues related to the project, such as transportation and housing, could fall under the council’s authority. The proposed camp would house 10 per cent of Fort St. John’s population if built within city limits.
Extending the city limits would also mean the properties between the present boundaries and the proposed camp would be eligible for City services, such as water and sewer systems, in addition to police and fire protection.
The council is asking for funding from BC Hydro to address the impact of the construction and operational phases of the project. It wants “funding to provide longer term benefits to the City.” The City would also like more input on the design to “avoid and mitigate” concerns about the negative effects of the project on the community.
To enhance economic opportunities, the City asks BC Hydro to hire locally, and be involved in the training of the local workforce to meet their needs, to buy local goods and services and work towards “the enhancement of Fort St. John as Canada’s Northern Energy Capital.”
The position paper also requests that BC Hydro revisit its original suggestion of a two-lane bridge across the Peace River, which has since been dropped from its plans. The council hopes that it would lead to “major long-term social and economic benefits.”
The council also believes that the reservoir, created as a part of the dam project, could benefit the region by providing recreational opportunities, including “boat launch facilities, marinas, swimming beaches and other related facilities.”
As the City “has yet to receive a comprehensive project design and description of anticipated impacts” from BC Hydro, it requests that it be involved in a planning committee that would include the mayor, two members of the council, the City manager and three senior officials from BC Hydro.
It also asks for the formation of a technical committee and a formal Memorandum of Understanding concerning these issues with BC Hydro.
Ackerman said that because this project will “impact the community in a very holistic way, we want to ensure that this is going to benefit not only the city of Fort St. John but our also neighbours in the regional district and other municipalities.”
Chief Roland Wilson of the West Moberly First Nation said that the Site C project must be viewed in the context of current and past industrial activities in the Peace Region.
“We can’t come back from flooding that valley,” said Chief Wilson. “It’s more important to keep that valley intact for the wildlife corridors, for food production and for the ecological stability of the area.”
In the press release announcing that the position paper, Ackerman said: “We believe that Noah was not likely in favour of the flood but he went to work to build an Ark.”
The position paper holds that the City should work with BC Hydro on the logistics of the project, to improve the benefits that could be provided to Fort St. John residents.
“We believe that if the dam is going to be moved forward in a sustainable fashion with the lightest footprint possible, working with the City is the most prudent thing that can be done,” Ackerman said.