Skip to content

Despite broken ground, no plans yet for Site C groundbreaking

When Gordon Campbell announced his government was putting plans for a third Peace River dam back on the table, he did so with considerable fanfare. The then-premier travelled to Hudson's Hope in April 2010, where in front of the W.A.C.
advaxvx
The Sept. 25, 1968 (shown here), and Sept. 24, 1980, editions of the Alaska Highway News made much fanfare over the public ceremonies for the start of the W.A.C. Bennett and Peace Canyon dams.

When Gordon Campbell announced his government was putting plans for a third  Peace River dam back on the table, he did so with considerable fanfare.

The then-premier travelled to Hudson's Hope in April 2010, where in front of the W.A.C. Bennett dam and a large media corps he announced his government's intention to move forward with a hydro project at Site C. Joining Campbell were Brad Bennett, W.A.C.'s grandson, and around 100 of the workers who helped build the dam.

"It is critically important that we start now," he said of work on the dam. "There will always be someone who counsels waiting."

Coordinating the event cost $360,000, according to an investigation by the Globe and Mail.

The start of work on that dam has been met with less pomp.

BC Hydro confirmed that it currently has no plans to mark the start of work on Site C, which began late last month. Neither, it seems, do other government departments.

Through access to information legislation, the Alaska Highway News requested documents, reports, briefing notes and correspondence related to potential Site C media events or groundbreaking ceremonies.

Sent to the ministries of environment, energy and Aboriginal relations, as well as the government communication department and the premier's office, the request turned up no records.

That doesn't mean the government won't mark the occasion in the future. The work that began in late July is mostly clearing; work on the dam itself isn't expected to begin until the second quarter of 2016, while installing the generators will run through 2024.

It's likely any such event would draw as many protestors as supporters.

That wasn't the case at the first official groundbreaking for the Portage Mountain Dam, as the Bennett dam was then called. Premier and future namesake W.A.C. Bennett visited the Peace with a retinue in 1964 to push the start button on the conveyor belt built to carry fill from quarries to the dam site. Work on diversion tunnels had begun in 1961, after the dam's initial approval in 1959.

"The ceremony went off smoothly, with little delay," an Alaska Highway News reporter wrote at the time. "The speeches were made, the site was viewed, the literature was handed out, the button pressed, and behold! The belt started to move, with gravel on it."

Based on the account, there was little bitterness at the event, besides from the AHN itself. The reporter apparently never got the memo, writing "one would think that in a matter of such importance to us who live here, a special effort might have been made to inform us at least of what time the ceremony was to take place, and where."

A search of the North Peace Museum archives turned up fewer details on groundbreaking at the Peace Canyon dam, though the stops were pulled out when it came time to flip the on switch. Seven hundred people gathered at the dam to watch Peace Country "pioneer" Elisabeth Beattie start the generator.

"The floor shook beneath the feet of 700 people at 2:30 yesterday afternoon as a generator at the Peace Canyon dam started to pour power into the B.C. grid," the front page story recounts.

Outside, farmers protested carrying signs reading "Save the Peace Valley" and "Hydro go Home." 

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs said it's likely any Site C groundbreaking would also attract protesters.

If the Treaty 8 First Nations court cases aimed at stopping the dam fails, Phillip said,   he would not "rule out" protests or even blockades.

"In the event there's some very provocative move ont he part of BC Hydro vís-a-vís construction and the Treaty 8 and the (Peace Valley Environment Association) decide to go out and confront whatever this may be, there's a 99 per cent chance I'll be there too," he said. 

"I think there's a pretty good chance (events) would be targeted as an opportunity to continue to raise public awareness to the vehement opposition to this ill-conceived project."

reporter@dcdn.ca