Three people have been selected to decide the fate of the Site C project - and in the process, the economic and social future of the Peace Region as a whole.
On Aug. 6, both B.C. and Federal regulatory authorities said that the amended environmental impact statement (EIS) for Site C was satisfactory, and have directed the proposal to the Joint Review Panel for further review.
The chair members include a longtime environmental ministry insider, a professional engineer and a communications consultant with an anthropology background.
The chair of the panel is Dr. Harry Swain, who holds a Ph.D. in economic geography. Swain served for 22 years in the federal government between 1971 and 1995, before eventually becoming a research associate at the University of Victoria.
In 2012, he wrote an editorial questioning Enbridge's proposed Northern Gateway pipeline, saying that there would be "some probabilities of environmental damage and some certainty of insult to aboriginal land titles."
The editorial concluded with Swain asking readers, "why Enbridge chose the less safe route, and whether we as taxpayers have to pay the premium for the risks the company has created."
Swain has also written a book about the Oka Crisis, a conflict where a First Nations protest arguing against a proposed golf course on disputed land turned into a 78-day standoff. (Swain was the Federal Minister of Aboriginal Affairs during that period.)
The second member of the panel is James Mattison, a professional engineer who at one point served as assistant deputy minister and comptroller of water rights with the Ministry of Environment.
Mattison spent 25 years with the Ministry of Environment before retiring from government service in 2009. According to the provincial Ministry of Finance website, Mattison sits on both the Oil and Gas Appeal Tribunal and the Environmental Appeals Board.
The third member of the panel is Jocelyne Beaudet, a communications consultant with two degrees in anthropology.
She has also served as a member of a joint review panel for the new Darlington nuclear power plant project and the Eastmain 1-A/Rupert Hydroelectric Project.
Fort St. John Mayor Lori Ackerman praised the panelists selected.
"They look like their very knowledgeable people, and I look forward to meeting them and having a discussion with them about the dam," she said.
Area C Director Arthur Hadland said the panelists would have a few issues to look at, including recreational opportunities, agriculture, the dam's economic impact in conjunction with the growing natural gas economy, and First Nations issues, among others.
"I'm ever optimistic that honesty will prevail in a review process," said Hadland, who has expressed opposition to the Site C dam in the past. "I'm hoping that they'll give it a thorough, honest and transparent review."
The Site C project is expected to cost $7 billion, and bring in potentially thousands of jobs to the Peace Region. However, critics have questioned its necessity and environmental impacts, among other issues.