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PRRD agrees to Site C legacy

BC Hydro has agreed to provide an annual payment of $2.4 million for a period of 70 years to the Peace River Regional District should the Site C dam project get regulatory approval.

BC Hydro has agreed to provide an annual payment of $2.4 million for a period of 70 years to the Peace River Regional District should the Site C dam project get regulatory approval.

As part of a regional legacy benefits agreement signed by the two parties on June 13, the payments will start once the dam is operational and be geared to inflation and allocated to member communities based on a formula determined by the region that considers both population and relative project impacts for each community.

While proponents of Site C are saying the agreement is an important step forward, some landowners and community representatives are not pleased with the development.

"Site C is not going to be a legacy we're going to be proud of," said Arlene Boon, whose farm would be lost if the project is approved.

"We'll lose everything," she said. "Our place is not for sale. I don't know what they're going to do about it."

In a statement following the announcement, Area C Director for the PRRD Arthur Hadland said he did not sign onto the agreement.

"This process has lacked the openness and transparency that citizens expect of their elected representatives," Hadland said. "It will be the residents of Old Fort, South Grandhaven and the Valley people up to and including Hudson's Hope who will pay the full price for this proposal. Some will lose the quiet enjoyment of their properties with no recognition. Others will face the full force of expropriation. This project has ignored and disrespected the very people who will receive little or no benefit from this legacy agreement."

Hadland called it a "secretive and manipulative process."

"Why has there been no legacy treaty established for existing W.A.C Bennett and Peace Canyon dams prior to any legacy agreement for proposed Site C?" Hadland asked. "Why has the B.C. Utilities Commission been excluded from this process?"

Hudson's Hope Council voted against the legacy benefits agreement and released a statement following the announcement, which read, "(We) believe this to be contrary to the principle of fairness and equitability."

Hudson's Hope said the funding formula is heavily weighted to population while the rural areas most affected by the potential development and operations of Site C are ignored.

PRRD chair Karen Goodings said it's important to acknowledge the significant sacrifices the Peace Region will be making in hosting the Site C dam, which is not expected to be operational before 2020.

"This legacy agreement is a symbol of that acknowledgement," Goodings said. "The Peace Region recognizes the provincial economic opportunity and value this new power source would bring British Columbia."

Pat Pimm, Peace River North MLA and Minister of Agriculture, said Peace River communities deserve a fair share of economic benefits from Site C.

"I have been advocating for a legacy agreement with BC Hydro since 2010," he said.

Mike Bernier, Peace River South MLA, said the region plays a key role in providing clean and reliable electricity for the province.

"In addition to the jobs and other economic benefits that will flow to the communities of the region, they will now also be able to count on long-term funding as a result of Site C," Bernier added.

The Minister of Energy and Mines, Bill Bennett, said Site C will provide clean, reliable and cost effective electricity to British Columbians for over 100 years.

"Site C will create about 33,000 jobs during development and construction and generate about $3.2 billion in GDP for the province."

Richard Koechl, a concerned citizen and science teacher in Fort St. John, has been a vocal opponent of the project.

Koechl said the annual payments from BC Hydro would add up to a great deal of money in the long-term.

"My first reaction is that's not part of the $7.9 billion (estimated total project cost)," he said. "If it's going to be put out every year and it's based on inflationary value, that could escalate very quickly. We know a dollar thirty years ago is worth probably four dollars (today). What's the real value of this?"

Koechl said he doesn't believe the agreement means the project is guaranteed approval.

"It's a proactive measure (by politicians)," he said. "(They're thinking) in case this goes through, we need to have this placeto get across the point they're not going to take this lying down. They want BC Hydro to be held financially culpable for the problems that will clearly continue."

According to BC Hydro, Site C would produce enough energy to power the equivalent of about 450,000 homes per year. Thousands of acres of land would be permanently inundated by Site C, which would be the third dam and hydroelectric generating station on the Peace River in northeast B.C.

The City of Fort St. John has not released an official statement on this agreement and Mayor Lori Ackerman declined to comment.