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Peace River Regional District wants assurances of Site C safety

The Peace River Regional District wants assurances from the provincial and federal governments about the safety of the Site C dam, and for them to respond to local residents when they raise concerns about the project.
Earthfill dam construction at Site C on the Peace River outside Fort St. John.

The Peace River Regional District wants assurances from the provincial and federal governments about the safety of the Site C dam, and for them to respond to local residents when they raise concerns about the project.

Board directors voted to write the respective ministers and authorities about the issue after former director and farmer Arthur Hadland raised concerns about the dam's structural integrity at their meeting in Fort St. John last week.

Hadland, who appeared as a delegation on March 28, raised his concerns about a number of recent dam failures, including the Mount Polley mine in B.C., and others in the U.S. and Brazil.

"These things are a bit of a harbinger of what could potentially happen down here," Hadland said.

"When the announcement was made to proceed with Site C (in December 2017), Premier Horgan was assured it was safe, but it was never put in writing. That's where I'm coming from: We need to have that in writing."

Hadland said he's been trying to get senior levels of government and ministers to recognize the vulnerabilities of the Peace River valley where the dam is being built on mostly weak sedimentary materials, such as shale and clay. Residents are particularly vulnerable in the Old Fort neighbourhood, just a kilometre downstream from Site C, and where residents had to be evacuated last fall after a massive landslide cut off access to the community, Hadland said.

"They are in the pathway of that dam, should it fail," Hadland said. Hadland has been requesting for months that an independent safety assessment be completed, and that various engineering reports that have been reportedly been commissioned for the dam as it's being constructed be released to the public. Hadland said he hasn't received a response.

Larry Houley, alternate electoral director for Area E, was the first to throw support behind Hadland. Old engineering reports on the dam have noted slope stability issues in the valley, and that those issues be dealt with as they happen, he said. 

"To me, that's unacceptable," Houley said. "For the safety of the residents of the area, we should get those assurances from senior governments. It hasn't come to this date."

However, some directors were skeptical of what would be accomplished by writing a letter. The project has already been designed, engineered, and is under construction, Taylor Mayor Rob Fraser said.

"To what end is this letter going to be used by us? What if they come back and say, 'Yes, we think it's safe' — does that make it any safer?" Fraser said.

A letter would be enough of an assurance, Houley replied.

"I have confidence in the attorney generals, federal and provincial,"  he said. "If they sent me this letter that said, 'Yes, this is safe,' I would accept that assurance. I don't have that now."

Dawson Creek Mayor Dale Bumstead doesn't believe the regional district will get a response, but supported the motion anyway.

"If somebody came to us (the regional district) and said, 'Could you please tell us if we develop on this property you can give me a100% guarantee that the property is going to be safe', we're going to say no, because there's no 100% guarantee," Bumstead said.

"They're not going to put that in writing to anyone. I wouldn't."

Dave Hieberg, mayor of Hudson's Hope, described the issue as a sense of ownership.

"If you're going to build a project of this nature, you should be in a position to provide some aspect of safety around it," he said.

"Knowing the valley and the amount of slides that are in the valley, not to mention particular road in our jurisdiction, we know that things are not exactly as stable as they could be. Mr. Hadland has some valid questions that need to be answered."

Karen Goodings, electoral director for Area B, noted the regional district has received a number of concerns from residents about the safety of the dam. Whether or not senior levels of government respond, the regional district would have the satisfaction of addressing the concerns of residents, she said.

Fraser echoed the sentiment, adding the board should also ask the governments and various agencies to respond to Hadland's correspondence to them.

"It's not our role as the regional district to become oversight, or to take a side one way or the other," Fraser said.

"But, it is our role to ensure when a legitimate question has been asked of the government, or an agency of the government, and it's not being responded to, it's legitimate for us to press that it be responded to."

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