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Art for awareness

Local artists at a silent art auction said they have been drawn to the vastness and drama of the Peace River Valley since they moved here, and that its awe-inspiring beauty is part of the reason they stay.

Local artists at a silent art auction said they have been drawn to the vastness and drama of the Peace River Valley since they moved here, and that its awe-inspiring beauty is part of the reason they stay.

Now that the valley could be subject to flooding if the Site C Dam project goes ahead, they're using their art to try and preserve the landscape that has been their constant muse.

The Fort St. John art association, Flying Colours, and other area artists collaborated with the Peace River Environmental Association to hold the auction and raise money for their campaign to oppose the hydroelectric project.

Many of the paintings that lined the walls of Whole Wheat and Honey Saturday night were renderings of the same valley they're working to try to save.

Local art enthusiasts filled the café and enjoyed the entertainment of Joe Ulrich and Josh Giesbrecht, on the accordion and guitar respectively.

The money raised will help fund continued government lobbying to oppose the dam and awareness campaigns, said Peace Valley Environment Association member Darby Forest.

So far the group has sent busloads of protesters, in conjunction with First Nations groups, to Victoria to protest the project. They have also brought members of the government and opposition to the area to show them exactly what the dam would destroy.

Additionally, the group runs awareness campaigns such as Paddle for the Peace, intended to generate community opposition to the project.

Forest fought a successful campaign against B.C. Hydro the last time they tried to dam up Site C, which gives her optimism that they will be successful again.

"The environmental reports haven't been completed yet and we seem to be catching the ear of some members in the government," said Forest.

Mike Kroecher moved to the Fort St. John area in 1965, and has been painting local scenes since that time. He was one of the artists who donated their paintings to the Peace River Environmental Association for the auction.

"I don't trust BC Hydro and the Liberals because they want to destroy the valley. They have been consistently lying to us," said Kroecher.

He pointed to a 2009 annual report by BC Hydro that said the province will be fully energy self-sufficient by 2016.

"If we're going to be self-sufficient by that time, why do we need to build Site C if it won't be completed until 2020?" said Kroecher.

One of the paintings that he donated was called 'A Peace River Scene' which is a painting of the valley that he can see from his house near Charlie Lake.

"All of this beauty will be destroyed," said Kroecher pointing to the painting.

Artist and retired local teacher Sandy Troudt moved to Fort St. John in 1974 and said she stayed here because of the Peace River Valley.

"My husband and I were both teachers so we could have settled anywhere really, but we stayed here because, where else can you drive 10 minutes from town and feel like you are in sheer wilderness?" said Troudt.

She said that the dam would not only threaten the beauty that inspires her art but also a significant amount of the province's farm land,

Troudt also donated several pieces to the auction because she supports the cause.

"I love the valley's vastness, you see these immense hills and in the distance you can see the Rockies, it really touches me," said Troudt.

In one of the paintings she donated, Troudt renders the valley in vibrant colours, playing with the unique light the area receives due to its northern latitude and expansive horizons.

The Peace River Valley Environmental Association was formed in 1975 to oppose the proposal by BC Hydro to build a dam 18 km. upstream of Taylor and 6.5 km. southwest of Fort St. John, B.C. Since that time it has maintained its opposition every time the project is reconsidered.

Following Saturday's auction, the association's next move will be a letter writing campaign to the new Federal Minister of the Environment, John Baird, to lobby him to put a halt to the project.