In the danger zone

The Peace River is the most endangered river in B.C. according to the Outdoor Recreation Council

The Peace River is the most endangered river in B.C. and Site C's potential approval in the next year or so is mainly to blame, according to the Outdoor Recreation Council of B.C (ORC).

The group solicits reviews and nominations for B.C.'s most endangered rivers from 100,000 members across B.C. The news release declaring the Peace this year's dubious winner sites widespread opposition, including unanimous First Nations disapproval, and an $8 billion total cost with no domestic need for the power the dam would generate.

"The reason the Peace is on the list is threefold," said the organizations chair of rivers, Mark Angelo.

"One, the dam is going to have extensive impacts, there's no question about that. It's going to impact wintering animal habitats, sacred cultural sites, recreational values, class one agricultural land.

"Secondly, we got so much feedback - nominations on the Peace literally dominated the feedback this year. Clearly it's evident there is a lot of opposition by those closest to the river who would be the most affected. Aboriginal communities are very much set against the project. That was clearly evident in the responses we got.

"Thirdly if you look at the most recent BC Hydro energy forecast, we are in a surplus position in this province. BC Hydro is predicting a surplus of at least several years, if not more. The need for the dam for domestic power has vanished. So I think if you look at the BC Hydro energy forecast, the impacts of the dam, the rampant opposition and the fact that we received a huge number of responses from your region, clearly the Peace deserves to be in the number one position."

However, Dave Conway, a spokesperson for BC Hydro, said that the demand for electricity will go up over the next few decades.

"Site C is required to help meet the future electricity needs of the province," he said.

"BC Hydro's current forecast shows electricity demand increasing by approximately 40 per cent in the next 20 years, driven by a projected population increase of more than one million residents and economic expansion. Subject to approvals, Site C would be a source of clean, reliable and cost-effective electricity for more than 100 years."

Angelo said the need for the energy that was given years ago as justification for the project has disappeared.

"Several years ago we were being told we clearly needed Site C for domestic power. If you look at BC Hydro's forecast, just in 2013 we're talking about 5,200 kilowatt hours of surplus. If you look at 2015 you're talking about a surplus 5,500 kilowatt hours. We're in a surplus for quite a while to come so there's clearly no need for the Site C dam. If you look at how people justified the dam several years ago, those needs simply are not there."

BC Hydro's argument that the power is required for future liquid natural gas projects is unfounded, Angelo added.

"LNG is still very uncertain," he said. "A lot of (the interest) is based on current premiums and there's pressure from a lot of the Asian markets to lower premiums substantially. So there may not be as much value in LNG in five years as there is currently."

Andrea Morison, spokesperson for the Peace Valley Environment Association, agreed. She said BC Hydro customers and taxpayer should not be on the hook just for over $8 billion to subsidize the LNG industry - let alone, Morison added, the fact that dam projects often go significantly over budget.

"Christy Clark - about a year ago - said it would take 100 per cent of Site C to power just one proposed LNG plant and just a couple weeks ago she stated point blank she's in favour of Site C because we need it for LNG," Morison said.

"That tells you right there we need it to support the LNG industry, but there's no statement going along with that saying the industry is going to pay for the dam. It's a Crown corporation, so the ratepayers are going to pay for it."

She added the ranking by the ORC shows people in the province really care about the issue.

The period for submission of written commentary on the project closed April 4. A joint review panel of three people is expected to be appointed this summer by the federal and provincial governments.

Ken Boon, who lives on property in the valley that would be lost to the proposed flood area of the reservoir created by the dam, said he has made submissions to the ORC in previous years as well as this year.

"The kinds of things we talk about are the vast cost of it, the burden it would be to the ratepayers of B.C. and basically the environmental train wreck it would be," Boon said.

"It just goes on and on. B.C. imports well over 50 per cent of our food and here we are considering flooding good farmland we can't replace up here. The Peace River country has a lot of good farmland, but this is the best. You can grow things in this valley you can't grow up here elsewhere and that's what they want to flood. And that's why it's important this made number one."

He said he was pleased by the ranking and said it reflects what the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency is already digesting after the comment period.

"They're swamped," Boon said. "They're getting criticism from agencies you'd least expect them to get criticism from. Our government, the Ministry of Environment, they have huge submissions pointing out some really key things BC Hydro missed the boat on in their EIS."

He said many respondents have pointed out several key issues BC Hydro will have to address, like the cumulative ecological impact of all three dams, broader results of damage to wildlife habitats, and the loss of farmland that produces foods which cannot be grown anywhere else in the region.

"I really don't know how they're going to proceed with this. If they choose to ignore them, it's going to make the environmental assessment process in front of the joint review panel pretty awkward for them. If they do address them, they might not have a project anymore."

He said the loss of his own property is not his biggest fear.

"In my view that's always secondary. I guess there are always casualties, but I think for the greater good of society and of the North, I can't imagine the Peace River Country of B.C. losing the Peace River. What are we going to call this area anymore? It's the focal point and so critical as part of our identity.

Conway stated in the email response that many of the effects of the Site C dam would be offset by potential benefits.

"Based on the substantial work undertaken to date, the effects of the project can largely be mitigated through careful project planning, comprehensive mitigation programs, and ongoing monitoring during

construction and operations. The EIS concludes that while Site C has the potential to result in some residual effects, the project should proceed because it serves the public interest by delivering long term,

reliable electricity to meet growing demand and provides a wide range of employment and community benefits," he said.

"Site C requires environmental certification and other regulatory permits and approvals before it can proceed to construction. In addition, the Crown has a duty to consult and, where appropriate, accommodate Aboriginal groups."

The ORC said the second most-threatened river is the lower Fraser, especially between Hope and Mission, because of development pressures from nearby production centres like Vancouver.

Elk River near Fernie holds the third spot due to rising levels of selenium, a toxin in runoff from nearby open-pit coal mines.

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