Dealing with what could potentially be the biggest project to come to the region in decades, the proposed Site C dam will be the biggest priority for the Peace River Regional District (PRRD) in 2013, according to their Strategic Priorities Chart that was released on Jan. 24.
"We are not the ones to make the decision," said Karen Goodings, PRRD board chair. "We are the people that are affected."
Many local governments set out their Strategic Priorities Chart to determine what should take up their staff and council's time and attention. For 2013, that will be the Site C dam project.
According to their environmental impact assessment released on Monday, the project will bring in $130 million in regional GDP during its construction, and $400,000 per year afterwards. Thousands of jobs are also expected to come in for the construction process.
However, the PRRD plans to carefully scrutinize these plans.
"We need to take at a look at what BC Hydro is presenting," said Goodings. "We need to make sure that impacts we recognize are being discussed."
Some in the Peace Region have criticized the effects that Site C could potentially have on the environment and the region as a whole.
Currently, PRRD staff are in the middle of examining what Goodings describes as “binders” worth of information presented by BC Hydro about the project. A look at the project on the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency website shows the executive summary of the environmental impact statement for Site C totals 88 pages.
"We have to zero in on what impact it will have on us," added Goodings. "(PRRD staff) are looking through it as well as perspective of other eyes."
Area C director Arthur Hadland also suggested that he would like to examine the province’s rationale for pursuing a dam rather than another source of energy.
“We know that we can build six Site C’s with natural gas,” he added. “We have to talk about stewardship.”
Hadland also said that any regional plans for the economy should come with help from Victoria.
"I think one of the key things we have to do with our regional economic development is garner the attention of the province ... so (provincial policies) meet the needs and long term growth of the northern region," he said. "Right now we just remain hewers of wood and drawers of water, that leaves us without that secondary and tertiary industry we need to foster for the long term sustainability of our region and of the province."
The second biggest priority for the PRRD would be a review of work camps for oil and gas workers within the region.
These work camps will be increased, as BC Hydro has said that they plan to bring in work camps for Site C workers, should be the Federal government approve the project.
However, both Goodings and Hadland have said that they would look at possibly changing this model.
“We don’t like the camps, especially when they’re in easy reach of housing,” said Goodings. “We want permanent housing.”
She compared these buildings to a model such as the Olympic Village constructed in Vancouver. While these buildings were set up for a temporary purpose, became more permanent housing. This could potentially cater to lower-income families, as well.
Hadland also expressed issues with work camp housing.
“I think these work camps are a cut and run enterprise in our community,” he said. “There’s no long term sustainability in them.”
Hadland said that oil and gas companies in the past have built more long-term housing for their residents in both Dawson Creek and Fort St. John.
The review would also look at health issues within the camps, and make sure that any potential issues are being addressed. It would also examine whose authority these camps fall under by government health bodies.
Hadland confirmed that if he were to be elected as the MLA for Peace River North in the upcoming provincial election, he would advocate for similar work camp policies.
The third priority for the PRRD would be an agricultural plan that would look at ways to improve that sector’s viability in the Peace Region.
Goodings said that this plan could look at ways to market farming, or different varieties of farming within the Region.
“We certainly do have very viable farms,” she added.
The fourth item on the priority chart would be an Regional Economic Development Plan. Goodings said that this plan would look at whether it would be possible for the many municipalities within the Peace Region – from cities like Dawson Creek and Fort St. John, to smaller villages like Taylor, could work together on an economic strategy.
The terms of reference for this project is expected this June, according to Goodings.