Local groups opposed to the Site C Dam will have some ammunition for their attack on the project in the form of funding from the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA).
The federal regulator, which is ultimately responsible for assembling a panel that will determine whether the dam will be constructed, has awarded eight groups a total of $141,615 to gather evidence and expert testimony in which to make their case against the project.
The Peace Valley Environmental Association is one of those groups awarded $19,000 to participate in the assessment process. Andrea Morison, coordinator for the group, said while they are pleased that the independent funding review committee acknowledged the value of the group's contribution to the assessment process, she said the money is just a drop in the bucket compared to the nearly $300,000 the group estimates it will cost to gather evidence and participate in the process.
"This is a three-year process, and similar to a legal or court process, and we do require the lawyers and subject matter experts to help us present our case and to assess the information BC Hydro puts forward," said Morison.
"While the $19,000 is helpful and much appreciated, it is a lengthy process and we will require more money and will have to carry out fundraising events to support our participation."
However, she said West Coast Environmental Law has agreed to contribute to her organization's legal fees through its Environmental Dispute Resolutions Fund.
"I think their endorsement speaks volumes as to the credibility of the contribution that we are going to make to this process," said Morison.
She said the PVEA will also have the benefit of working with the other groups that received funding so that the total funding can be used in then most productive ways. She said, for example, her organization will focus on the socio-economic and agricultural impacts of the Site C Dam.
"The (Peace River) Valley has Class 1 and 2 farmland, which is very rare in the province, and even on a global scale, it is significant because we are losing quality farmland due to the effects of climate change," said Morison. "This valley has its own micro-climate, so the potential for productivity is great, and if they flood this valley, we will lose 8,000 acres of Class 1 and 2 land."
She said other groups will focus on the other potential impacts of constructing the dam and flooding the valley. She said, for example, the Pembina Institute will be looking at both domestic and industrial demand for electricity as relates to the project, and the North Peace Rod and Gun Club and the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative will be looking at wildlife and habitat impacts.
Morison said the PVEA is a grassroots organization of landowners and other interested stakeholders in the Peace River Valley that formed more than 30 years ago, when the location of the Site C Dam was first contemplated during the construction of the W.A.C. Bennett and Peace Canyon Dams. She said the group participated in hearings held by the BC Utilities Commission (BCUC) twice before, and were successful in helping to ensure the project did not move forward in the 1980s and 1990s, though the authority of the BCUC over the project was stripped away by the provincial government in 2010.
Other groups that were awarded funding include the British Columbia Women's Institute, the Peace River Environmental Society, and the Kelly Lake Cree Nation.
Gwen Johansson will also receive $19,000 to present evidence on behalf of landowners along the river valley, who she said are not part of a formal society or organization, and therefore could not apply for funding as a group. The Hudson's Hope town councillor is an affected landowner herself, as she said her home and property in the Lynx Creek area would be lost if the dam proceeds.
Johansson said the evidence she intends to present will focus on some the intangible assets that stand to be lost if the valley if flooded, such as the historical importance of the homes there to early settlement of the Peace region.
"Some of those families - not mine, but others - are in their fourth generation living there, so there are long-established roots that run very deep there, and it's the combination of the value of the community we live in, and the historical roots," she said.
She said she will seek the expertise of a professor at the University of Waterloo in Ontario who has developed a model for assessing those quality-of-life impacts.
"The people who live there have the knowledge, but they don't have the expertise to put it in a form that would be best suited to put before a panel."
Johansson said while our society tends to put values on things according to their tangible value, such as their worth in dollars, it's the intangible, cultural values that tend to stand the test of time and contribute to future generations. She added, ultimately, those quality-life-impacts are not totally separated from the more visible socio-economic and environmental impacts.
While the eight groups mentioned above have been funded through CEAA's Participant Funding Program, over $500,000 will also be provided to 22 Aboriginal communities in British Columbia, Alberta and the Northwest Territories to participate in the assessment process. CEAA maintains the reason for the significant difference in the funding available to Aboriginal groups compared to non-Aboriginal groups pertains to the Crown's duty to consult with First Nations that is distinct and separate from other types of participation in the assessment process.
The Site C project is being assessed in a joint process CEAA and the provincial Environmental Assessment Office (EAO), and the two bodies have yet to draft the guidelines that will include timelines for the joint review panel (JRP) to convene and consider the evidence presented in the various communities affected by the project.