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Hudson's Hope opens dam negotiations to residents

After making documents about a future mitigation and compensation agreement with BC Hydro over the Site C dam public for community feedback, the District of Hudson’s Hope says it has only had positive responses.
District of Hudson's Hope Mayor Gwen Johannson.

After making documents about a future mitigation and compensation agreement with BC Hydro over the Site C dam public for community feedback, the District of Hudson’s Hope says it has only had positive responses.

Although conversations around funding take place behind closed doors, the district went public with its approach to negotiating an agreement.

“It’s a difficult position to be in when we’re negotiating, which has to be in-camera (closed) and confidential, but then you want to do things that are in the best interest of the population,” said Mayor Gwen Johansson in an interview.

“These are process things, so it’s not about money, dollars and cents. It’s about how we set up a situation so that Hudson’s Hope is kept whole, because we stand to lose a lot of things with Site C.”

The three documents focus on the request for a community engagement committee, the statutory right of way that will be placed on land adjacent to the dam’s reservoir, and taxes.

Hudson’s Hope has about 50 years of history dealing with dams within the district, and there is no official forum in place to deal with issues that come up.

“What this community engagement committee is aimed at is trying to establish some sort of a system so that as issues arise, that’s where you go to resolve them,” said Johannson.

On statutory rights of way for the dam, the district hopes to give landowners as many rights as possible.

Johansson believes that there is a great deal of misunderstanding about the future reservoir.

“A lot of people think that, ‘Oh... I’ll be able to get a lot on the side of the reservoir and build a sundeck out over the bank and throw my fishing line in to catch breakfast,” Johansson said.

But that’s not the case. A statutory right of way will be placed on the land adjacent to the reservoir, which will prevent any permanent structures on the land.

The objective of the document is to allow anybody with title to that adjacent land to sign a legal document indicating they are aware of the hazards of putting a permanent structure on their property, and build there if they desire.

“They would say, ‘OK, I accept the risk, so I’m going to put my set of corrals there, or I am going to put my granaries there, or a cabin or maybe even a residence, whatever. But I accept the fact that there is a possibility that it may erode or slide into the reservoir,” said Johannson.

It’s an attempt to try to give the landowner more options and more choices.

The third document has to do with taxes, and what the district has lost and stands to lose as a result of BC Hydro having purchased extensive amounts of land in Hudson’s Hope.

Hydro is by far the largest landowner in the district.

“They’ve been acquiring land for Site C... they started in the 1970s, they formalized what they called the Passive Land Acquisition Policy in 1975, so, that’s a long time, 40 years,” Johansson said.

The land acquisition policy gave landowners who would be directly impacted by the project the option of selling their property to Hydro.

In a regular housing market, when people move, they sell their house and somebody comes along and buys their residence to live there. That isn’t what’s happened in Hudson’s Hope. Once Hydro buys a property, it never returns to the housing market.

Because those lots once had houses and people living there, they were taxed as residential properties, Johansson said. Now, some of those vacant properties bring the district just 13 cents a year.

“There’s been a lot of lost opportunity and lost taxes there,” she said.

The document is an effort to calculate what the district would have received had Hydro not been acquiring properties for the last 40 years, and to try to determine what Hudson’s Hope will lose in taxes once the land is under water.

The district has been hosting public meetings about the documents and their approach to negotiating an agreement with Hydro over the last few weeks.

“We’re just having low level discussions with the public,” said Tom Matus, chief administrative officer of Hudson’s Hope.

According to him, “Everybody’s in favour of what direction the district is taking in regard to those documents.”

A call to Hydro regarding its negotiations with the district was not returned by press deadline.