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Changing the date

Joint Review Panel moves up the local hearing dates by a month

Heads up, Fort St. John: public hearings on the Site C dam reserved for local residents have been pushed forward a month.

The joint review panel undertaking the hearings has switched its preliminary date for the eight-hour session from Jan. 6 to Dec. 11 and 12 at the Pomeroy Hotel.

The hearings are set to begin in Fort St. John on Dec. 9, and the panel has set aside an extra three hours of general sessions on Dec. 12, where anyone who registers can present their views on the project and its impacts.

Fort St. John Mayor Lori Ackerman has already fired off a letter to the panel expressing concern that the change is throwing up barriers for residents and community groups to prepare their presentations for the panel.

"The new schedule, communicated approximately two weeks prior to the general sessions beginning, will create significant accessibility barriers for our community members who wish to participate in this important public process," Ackerman wrote.

"The new schedule is especially difficult for community organizations that may need to confer with their members in order to create a presentation and be ready to provide it to the panel in two weeks."

The revised schedule was released on Nov. 22, two weeks before the opening day of hearings. Ackerman noted the change is a full four weeks sooner than community members expected, adding many had planned their holiday schedules around the January hearing date.

"Finding out that the revised schedule will now make participation in mid-December impossible for some is frustrating," Ackerman wrote. "There are members of our community whose participation (due to) this change in schedule will significantly limit or, quite possibly, eliminate altogether."

Ackerman wants the January date restored. She says access to public hearings is a "key principle in our government's open public processes."

As part of the rejig, the panel has pushed planned community sessions for Doig River and Halfway River First Nations from Dec. 11 to Jan. 6 and 7. A planned hearing in Blueberry River First Nations appears to have been eliminated from the schedule.

"The panel tries to balance the needs of a number of participants and accommodate them as best as possible, in order to provide people in the project area with an opportunity to participate in the hearing," panel spokeswoman Lucille Jamault said in an email statement. "The panel may make occasional changes to the hearing schedule as needed."

In the meantime, Ackerman is urging local residents to register for the hearings by this Friday, Dec. 6.

"The public hearing process is important and Fort St. John needs to be well represented," Ackerman said in a statement Tuesday. "I encourage all community organizations and residents who have an interest to let your voice be heard."

Ackerman will be one of a handful of Peace Region municipal leaders who will speak at the hearings, including Chetwynd Mayor Merlin Nichols, Hudson's Hope Chief Administrative Officer Tom Matus and PRRD Area C Director Arthur Hadland.

Since August, a federal and provincial joint review panel has been poring through BC Hydro's 20,000-page environmental impact statement on Site C. Hydro says it needs the $8 billion project to meet a 40 per cent increase in electricity demand over the next 20 years, as the province's population is projected to jump by a million people.

The panel has set 26 hearing dates for the community and technical experts to speak to the proposal. Half of those are scheduled in Fort St. John and are topic-specific sessions, reserved for experts with specialized knowledge to present on everything from the impacts on vegetation, wildlife and aquatic and downstream environments, to socio-economic impacts and regional development.

Two sessions are also scheduled for Dawson Creek on Jan. 8 and 9 at the George Dawson Inn.

The environmental assessment is expected to wrap up in spring, when the panel will submit a report to the federal and provincial governments. Ottawa will make a final decision on the project within six months of receiving the panel's report.

If approved, BC Hydro will build a 60-metre-high earth dam about seven kilometres south of Fort St. John, along with a 1,100-megawatt generating station. Site C would be the third dam along the Peace River.

Submissions piling up for Site C panel

Input on the proposed Site C hydroelectric dam continues to pour in as the panel responsible for giving the project a green or red light gears up for public hearings beginning next week.

More than 130 people have registered to speak at upcoming public hearings on Site C, slated to begin in Fort St. John on Dec. 9, and another 130 have filed written submissions notching support for or opposition against the proposal to the three-person panel. That's on top of the more than 1,500 documents filed to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency on the proposal since July 2011.

Key players wading into the proceedings and making presentations include:

Mayor Lori Ackerman, Fort St. John

Mayor Merlin Nichols, Chetwynd

Tom Matus, chief administrative officer, Hudson's Hope

Mayor Gwen Johansson, Hudson's Hope (appearing as private landowner)

Arthur Hadland, director, Peace River Regional District

School District 60

Brian Naito, Fisheries and Oceans Canada

Jeffrey Moore, Province of Alberta

Chief Roland Willson, West Moberly First Nations

Chief Norman Davis, Doig River First Nation

Chief Russell Lilly, Halfway River First Nation

Chief Lynette Tsakoza, Prophet River First Nation

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs

Sylvia Johnson, president, Metis Nation of Alberta Region 6

Brian Churchill, Peace Conservation and Endowment Trust

David Austin, Clean Energy Association of B.C.

Dr. Faisal Moola, David Suzuki Foundation

Wendy Francis, Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative

Guy Lahaye, president, North Peace Rod and Gun Club