Will the benefits of Site C outweigh the negatives to the community? The City of Fort St. John is concerned that unless gaps in the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) are bridged, that answer will be no.
Now that interested parties have had time to examine BC Hydro's Site C EIS, many deficiencies and unaddressed issues are coming to the forefront.
Peace River North MLA Pat Pimm announced Tuesday he feels a list of positions he released last year have put the main concerns of the community on BC Hydro's radar. Last week, two Peace River Regional District directors aired their grievances with a letter to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA). And the City of Fort St. John presented to Council on Monday an analysis of the mitigation strategies in the EIS that identified numerous omissions.
PRRD directors Arthur Hadland and Karen Goodings, directors of Areas C and B respectively, in their letter dated March 20 to CEAA panel manager Linda Jones and executive project director Brian Murphy, said the project does not justify negative effects on residents living near the construction area. Of particular concern was the seizure of private property in the 3,000-hectare reservoir flood area.
"The Crown BC Hydro does have the power of expropriation," read the letter. "At the same time it is doubtful that they have the social license to devastate the homes and lifestyles of the people living along and within the Peace Valley."
Goodings and Hadland argue that "instability issues, people displaced, destroying irreplaceable historic sites, permanent loss of precious food producing lands, marginalizing First Nations' interest, loss of wildlife habitat and the superb recreational River and islands" cannot be mitigated and do not represent public good.
"If expropriation powers are to be used for private purposes, it is our contention that the Province does not have the social license to flood the Peace River Valley, nor is it justification destroying the lifestyles and homes of the people and the natural environment within the Peace Region," they said.
The pair also argue noise generated during construction "will cause the impacted residents to lose a significant and measurable loss of the rural lifestyle including actual depreciation of the real property," and will not be meaningfully compensated.
Meanwhile, the City's report calls for a wide range of significant changes to BC Hydro's policies.
The report says the City is not satisfied with BC Hydro's assertion groundwater quality downstream from the project will not be affected. The City wants BC Hydro to fully fund and commence immediately a program to monitor the quality of that groundwater.
As well, the report says BC Hydro did not take greenhouse gas emissions into account.
"There are no plans to mitigate GHG emissions such as the potential to use natural gas-powered vehicles in the construction fleet," read the report. "The City of Fort St. John sees this as a significant gap in the GHG management strategy."
The report also points out construction will indirectly influence GHG emissions in other ways, which the EIS ignored.
The City said in the EIS, BC Hydro makes only a cursory mention of financial contributions to government revenue.
"While the City of Fort St. John is identified as the community whose services will be most impacted, there is no plan as to how the costs of such impacts will be addressed other than the generic statement that standard mitigation through annual payments in lieu will be provided," read the report.
"Here the City wishes to reiterate the findings of the World Commission on Dams and International Hydropower Association that large dams have generally not provided the benefits predicted, while the negative impacts have been greater than anticipated."
The report argues there is no evidence in the EIS that the impact on services would be offset by increased residential and business activity in Fort St. John, rather that evidence to the contrary is clear. The EIS also omits details on the impact that will be borne by all specific municipal services.
The City also addresses the loss of some agricultural productivity to the reservoir flood area, saying the EIS argues market garden produce grown there makes up less than one per cent of the Peace Agricultural Region's production, but misses the fact that some of the area's produce can be grown only in that area, such as sweet corn and melons.
The EIS appears to contradicts itself on agriculture in the region by saying "Overall, regional food self-reliance has not been examined in detail," but later, "There are no residual effects of the ability of the region to be food self-reliant."
Also, the loss of some aggregate supply to the flood area has not been properly addressed, argued the City. Its report contends flooding a number of aggregate pits will likely raise the price of the resource, which is very important to a city growing at the rate Fort St. John does.
The City disagrees with BC Hydro that demand on community services from in-camp residents will be minimal.
"This seems unrealistic given such factors as the range of services available in the City (shopping, restaurants, pubs, etc.), time off available to camp residents, the fact that 92 per cent of camp residents will be male, and the proximity of the camp to the city. On a related note, there will be a relationship between camp and community commuting, and traffic generation (including volumes, accident rates, etc.)."
The EIS also ignored services provided by the non-profit sector, according to the City, such as addiction services, seniors, children and youth, culture, literacy, abuse, immigrant service and religion.
Other issues included strains on housing, tourism, and air quality.
BC Hydro spokesperson Dave Conway said he would not comment publicly until he had seen the report. Fort St. John City Council is making a presentation of concerns to BC Hydro on April 2.