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Earthquakes shake up hearings

Site C Public Hearings: Day 16


Earthquakes may be increasingly common reality in the Peace Region, but only one person came forward to a joint review panel to tell their story of how it affected her.

Esther Pedersen was at home when a magnitude 4.2 earthquake her hit her home, it felt "like a big truck was hitting our house," she told the panel.

At times it seemed difficult for her to recount the story. She was concerned that her area - which she claimed was close to Site C - may be more prone to earthquakes.

With further reports of fracking-linked earthquakes, however small they may be, these quakes were a concern for her, and likely others.

Earthquakes (and the dam's vulnerability to them) was one of the subjects broached at the hearings last Monday.

BC Hydro claimed that it was well prepared for an earthquake.

According to Tim Little, an expert called by the organization, BC Hydro was prepared for a magnitude 7.6 earthquake.

In the last 25 years, the most intense earthquake experienced in the region was one that occurred at a magnitude of 5.4. According to Environment Canada experts called upon to speak at the panel said that no one was injured and property wasn't damaged with this earthquake.

This theoretical earthquake that BC Hydro was built to withstand was about 2,000 times more powerful.

An earthquake of about magnitude seven did however happen in northeastern B.C. in 1898, according to an Environment Canada report.

"We have considered very large earthquakes, very large to the site, so the fracking process might induce some other earthquakes, but we've accounted for those," Little told the panel. "Fracking speeds them up a little bit."

When asked if a series of small earthquakes could weaken it, Nunn said that "a series of smaller earthquakes would not worry (the dam)."

A review by Natural Resources Canada seemed to back up BC Hydro.

"This is a region of low seismic hazard ... and it has been accurately characterized by the proponent," according to Tim Little from Natural Resource Canada. "The proponent's seismic hazard model incorporates past, present, and likely future earthquakes."

The project moved throughout the day from massive earthquakes to bottom-feeder fish smaller than 15 centimetres.

The panel heard from First Nations, local Fish and Wildlife officials, and the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans about the effects the project could have on fish in the area.

West Moberly First Nation Chief Roland Wilson took to the stage to express his concerns about the effects the dam would have on fishing.

Specifically, while BC Hydro had plans about what kind of fish they expected to flourish once the Site C dam was built, it wasn't the type of fish that Wilson would have preferred.

"We have a meaningful right to hunt preferred stocks, and to have protected habitat of that."

In B.C.'s environmental impact statement describing what they think will happen once the Site C is built, it calls for an increase in the number of kokanee, a small sockeye salmon.

This fish is "not one that local First Nations prefer to eat ... our people don't particularly prize kokanee."

Instead they preferred fish like bull trout, rocky mountain whitefish, and arctic grayling, among others, according to a presentation made by Wilson.

The federal Department of Fisheries and Ocean said that the project may reduce the abundance of fish species like the arctic grayling and mountain whitefish.

According to the federal Department of Fisheries and Ocean, the project would dramatically alter the aquatic ecosystem.

"DFO considers it more likely there will be little change, or potential reductions in some fish populations due to regulated flow, turbidity, and lower primary and secondary productivity," a November letter states. "Implementation of mitigation proposed in the EIS ... will reduce effects on fish and fish habitat; however, as noted by the proponent, not all effects can be fully mitigated."

The DFO also asked BC Hydro to come up with a plan to offset the harm to fish in consultation with local First Nations, the provinces and DFO. This plan would help maintain or improve the productivity of recreational and Aboriginal fisheries.

BC Hydro said in their response that they would develop a compensation plan with measures "that are technically, economically and biologically feasible."

Despite this lower level, Brent Mossop, an expert called upon by BC Hydro, claimed that more biomass of fish would exceed current levels once the dam was completed. Mossop mentioned kokanee in particular within the Site C reservoir, something that "we're seeing more and more of over time."

Brad Fonas, another Department of Fisheries and Ocean employee, said that their group was "satisfied with the level of expertise" shown by BC Hydro regarding fish.

Chairman Harry Swain said that was "an important conclusion for us."

Despite this, Nick Baccante, the local Fish and Wildlife official, had concerns about BC Hydro's assessment of impacts.

He said that BC Hydro needed a protocol on capture and selection of fish species to be moved, considering a wide variety of factors. He also said that BC Hydro needed " a better understanding" of where the aquatic production would come from in the reservoir to support the new fishes.

This led to an inadvertently funny exchange with an audience member.

Jim Little said that BC Hydro's idea of more biomass in the river, and a nutrient poor reservoir, "(didn't) add up."

"If there's less nutrients in the reservoir than in the river system how can there be more fish?"

"That's what I said," replied Baccante. "It's not very clear where that productivity is coming from."

Despite this, Siobhan Jackson of BC Hydro said that they expected the biomass to increase, and that there would be more mountain whitefish in the river system once the dam was in place.

"There are many definitions of productivity," she said. "(BC Hydro) used terms of increased biomass ... while the fish biomass per area decreases, the total fish biomass will increase 1.8 fold. BC Hydro maintains as does the DFO that the most important measure of productivity is total fish biomass."

This was not the fish issue brought up.

Clarence Wilson, another West Moberly councillor, told the panel that a study funded by his Nation has found mercury in fish near Crooked River, which is near West Moberly.

According to Roland Wilson, 60 of the 65 fish had levels that fell above human consumption levels.

"I'm concerned (Site C) will introduce mercury laden fish into the Moberly watershed," Clarence Wilson told the panel. "Are we going to be concerned about harvesting fish out of the Moberly River and Moberly Lake who swim up the reservoir?"

Baccante said that was "a valid concern."

Greg McKinnon, a consultant hired by the Treaty 8 Tribal Association, also took issue with BC Hydro's assessment of the issue on fish.

He said they didn't take into tributaries that provide a spawning area for Peace River fish populations.

"BC Hydro's conclusion of not significant with respect to altered fish habitat south of downstream does not seem to be provided by a defensible analysis," he told the panel.

McKinnon said there was uncertainty about which fish were subject to assessment and whether all species of value to First Nations were considered.

He also felt that BC Hydro's conclusion that it would only have significant effects on subfish of three fish species may not be comprehensive, particularly in reference to fish species that First Nations hold in importance.

"McKinnon has not suggested an alternative method for significance," Jackson later responded. She said biodiversity and biomass were the basis of their definition of significance.

Another issue that was brought up was whether certain types of rocks that are acidic could go into the river as a result of the project.

Metal leaching or acid rock drainage is defined as naturally occurring processes where minerals containing sulphur or sulphide are exposed to weathering effects of oxygen and water, which generates acids that can be harmful.

John Nunn, an expert for BC Hydro, said his company "agree(s) completely with Natural Resource Canada's recommendation that more water quality modelling is needed. That's underway right now."

We are taking leaching from those barrels in order to form our ard-ml management plan," he told the panel. "We are working with provincial regulators to finalize that plan."

The issue of access to the site was also discussed. According to BC Hydro, they do not plan to permit people to come near the construction areas either by land or by water because of safety concerns.

This came despite a recommendation from Transport Canada that the river should remain open to the public during construction.

Instead, they would have to come to a viewing post dozens of kilometres away.

They promised to give further information justifying our recommendation area.

Jackson also said that they would not put in a system that would allow people to have a truck and trailer service to pick up boaters and move them from the reservoir to the river, and vice versa.

"We're concerned that such a service would not likely be used."

Jackson said BC Hydro also plans to build boat dry launches in dry conditions to be available early.