A longtime Peace Region farming family has been recognized for their efforts advocating against the proposed Site C hydroelectric dam.
On Nov. 23, the Wilderness Committee announced Arlene and Ken Boon as the recipients of its 2013 Eugene Rogers Environment Award, which recognizes public efforts that promote environmental protection in British Columbia.
"We were shocked and really honoured to hear that we received that award," Ken Boon told the Alaska Highway News on Monday. "Of course, it's very timely now with the battle we're in going into the hearings."
The Boons are owners of Bear Flat Farms, nestled along the banks of the Peace River between Fort St. John and Hudson's Hope. They, like hundreds of other B.C. residents, are turning their attention to the public hearings slated to get underway on the $8 billion Site C proposal in Fort St. John on Dec. 9.
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, which Hydro says is desperately needed to meet a 40 per cent increase in electricity demand over the next 20 years.
The Boons are the third generation to farm and ranch about 620 acres along the river.
Arlene Boon's grandfather first purchased land there in the late 1940s, and her father joined soon after in the 1950s. The family has fought strongly against the dam since it was first proposed decades ago, said Boon.
The family expects to lose about half of their land to flooding if Site C is approved, largely due to the 80-kilometre long reservoir the dam will create and stretch back to the Peace Canyon dam outside Hudson's Hope.
About 3,400 hectares of mostly Class 1 and 2 agricultural lands will be flooded.
That's enough to qualify as the largest removal of farmland from the agricultural land reserve in B.C.'s history, said Ken Boon, noting the Peace River Valley is prized for its microclimate and ability to sustain farming at such a high northern latitude.
Flooding that farmland will be a significant blow to B.C., where only about 5 per cent of the province is arable land, said Ken Boon.
"A lot of people don't realize the extent of this reservoir, how far it carries up the side creeks ... and all the real good, low-elevation river bottom land where the giant cottonwood trees are sitting," he said.
"A lot of that is going to be gone ... The environmental cost, the loss of farmland is just phenomenal," he said.
The Wilderness Committee has handed out the Eugene Rogers Award since 1992.
"Ken and Arlene are family farmers who have stepped up to become passionate spokespeople for the beauty and abundance of the Peace River Valley, and about the need to protect it by stopping the proposed Site C Dam," said Joe Foy, national campaign director at the Wilderness Committee.
Last year, former B.C. cabinet minister Rafe Mair was handed the award for his outspoken opposition to salmon farms, pipelines and private hydropower. Previous winners include Xeni Gwet'in Chief Marilyn Baptiste and wild salmon activist Alexandra Morton.
The award comes with a $1,000 prize, which Ken Boon said will be funnelled right back into the Peace Valley Environment Association. The PVEA has undertaken costly efforts to hire experts and advocate against the dam proposal, and will appear numerous times in front of the panel at the upcoming hearings.
"They're going to be needing all the help they can get right now. We encourage others to do the same," said Boon.
The environmental assessment on Site C is expected to wrap up in spring. Following the hearings, the panel will submit a report to the federal Minister of the Environment and the executive director of the B.C. Environmental Assessment Office. The federal government will make a 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.