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First Nations challenge Site C water licences

Province ‘rushed through the process,’ chief says
West Moberly Chief Roland Willson.

A fifth legal challenge against the $8.8-billion Site C dam is brewing with West Moberly First Nations and Prophet River First Nation’s move to appeal the main water licences for Site C with the Environmental Appeal Board.

The licences, issued Feb. 26, authorize the diversion and storage of water, which includes the creation of an 83-kilometre reservoir.

“We (Treaty 8 First Nations) currently have three court cases going on. Possibly four, now ... we filed an injunction on the issuance of the water licences that the province issued here just recently,” West Moberly Chief Roland Willson told the Alaska Highway News.

The Environmental Appeal Board is an independent agency that hears appeals on government decisions with relation to water licences, contaminated site remediation orders, and the cancellation of hunting licences, among other environmental issues.

Willson says the province “rushed through the process,” and has minimalized First Nations’ interests and concerns.

“There is absolutely no need to rush the process, they didn’t have to issue the water licences. There is absolutely no call for the power. What they’re trying to do is they’re trying to get so far down the road that they can’t turn back,” he said.

“There’s only so much land available, and if the province continues to keep taking it up ... well, we say right now that they’re in violation of treaty infringement,” said Willson.

West Moberly and Prophet River had also requested of the province to be involved in mitigation of the impacts of Site C through B.C. Hydro’s Fish and Wildlife Compensation Program (FWCP), or a similar program.

 “The Fish and Wildlife Compensation Program doesn’t reflect the needs and interests of the First Nations people who are most affected by hydroelectric development,” Prophet River Chief Lynette Tsakoza said in a written statement.

“We asked to be more directly involved in the program for Site C, but that request was ignored.”

Trevor Oussoren, FWCP manager, said he was “not aware of any kind of request,” and that although BC Hydro provides the funds for the program, it’s governed by a five-way partnership that includes BC Hydro, the province, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, First Nations, and public stakeholders.

“One key thing is the program is in place to conserve and enhance fish and wildlife impacted by the existing BC Hydro dams,” he said. “Site C is not existing, so that’s a clear distinction.”

The program is in place for the BC Bennett Dam and the Peace Canyon Dam, he said.

“We focus on the existing dams, and then down the road I’m not exactly sure what’s going to happen, but … those are future conversations.”

A hearing date for the appeal has not yet been set.

The First Nations’ decision to appeal the issuance of the main water licences for Site C comes as dam opponents the Peace Valley Landowner Association (PVLA) and BC Hydro gave their arguments in court April 4 and 5.

PVLA is seeking a review of the July 2015 BC Supreme Court decision on the province’s issuance of an environmental assessment certificate for the project.