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Site C Agreement recommendations "ignored"

The finishing touches have been put on the Site C Joint agreement, but local First Nations and environmental groups say the document is just more evidence that the process is nothing more than lip service from the government.

The finishing touches have been put on the Site C Joint agreement, but local First Nations and environmental groups say the document is just more evidence that the process is nothing more than lip service from the government.

Earlier this week, the final joint agreement and terms of reference for the environmental assessment on the Site C Clean Energy Project were announced as signed by the Honorable Peter Kent, federal Minister of the environment and the Honorable Terry Lake, British Columbia Minister of the Environment.

The final agreement specifies the process for conducting the review, outlines the joint review panel terms of reference and identifies the timelines associated with key steps of the review process.

The agreement was finalized after a 30-day public consultation period held in Oct. 2011 where local groups and individuals were invited to review the draft agreement and submit comments and recommendations; a process that many are now saying was largely ignored.

"It's just a game; it's a lot of lip service," said Liz Logan, Treaty 8 Tribal Association Chief. "Their consultation process, in our mind, is not designed to support a meaningful dialogue about what sustainable energy is and what it should look like in B.C."

Logan said that Treaty 8 submitted many recommendations during the consultation process and found that few, if any, were actually incorporated in to the final agreement.

The Peace Valley Environment Association (PVEA) agreed, saying that of 52 recommendations they submitted, only two were included in the end.

The two that were included were a participant funding program and a request that the panel members chosen would have knowledge or experience relevant to the anticipated effects of the project on the environment.

However, Andrea Morrison, Coordinator for PVEA, said what's more concerning is what was ignored.

"There's so many. There are 50 [that weren't included], and they're all very meaningful."

The group had included many suggestions pulled from the best practices included in the terms of reference for projects such as the Churchill Falls Hydroelectric Project, the Northern Gateway Project and Prosperity Mines.

"Interestingly, [those projects] were rejected, so it wouldn't be in their interest to incorporate those in their terms of reference," said Morrison.

One of the other rejected recommendations was that the joint panel come for a site visit.

"When you're considering a project of this magnitude, I think that makes sense in anybody's eyes, but it wasn't incorporated in to the agreement," said Morrison.

They also wanted things like detailed definitions of terms, increased number of members on the joint panel and better opportunities for public involvement such as longer review periods, but the requests all went unrepresented in the final agreement.

Logan said the Tribal Association had a similar experience, and that they feel it is just an example of the government's disregard for the public's opinion.

"Treaty 8 is always going to continue to participate in good faith in this consultation process, even though the government has consistently not shown much interest in what First Nations or even British Columbians have had to say about Site C."

Logan pointed out that the First Nations is extremely happy that the review process is a joint one between the provincial and federal government because it gives them a better opportunity to put forward their concerns.

"We are pleased that it is a joint panel review because heaven forbid it was just the provincial government making the decision because this project would have been approved a long time ago," said Logan. "The consultation, as far as B.C. government is concerned, is to make it look like they're listening but not to change any of their plans. And it's just really disturbing for us and disappointing to have to government now calling us radicals just because we're objecting to plans that are going to wreck our land and our way of life."

The concerns of Treaty 8 relate largely to the land that is set to be flooded, and Logan notes that it is still used by First Nations to exercise their way of life.

"A lot of our ancestors' remains are found around river banks and river valleys, so a lot of artifacts and potentially some of our ancestors remains are going to be flooded out," said Logan. "It's also going to impact the wildlife that we're really dependent on. That's what our rights say - we can hunt, fish and trap for as long as we want. And that is being eroded everyday."

Overall, Treaty 8 said they weren't satisfied with the way that final agreement was drafted but will continue to participate in the process in hopes of having their voice heard.

"We're going to participate in good faith because it is a two-way street and we need to be at the table," said Logan.

Morrison echoed a similar sentiment.

"This is a process that is being offered, and we feel that we need to make the most of every opportunity it presents for us. We feel that we have a very strong case in a number of areas, and we're hopeful that the joint review panel will see the importance and relevance of the issues that we are bringing forward."

The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency was unable to provide clarification or comment on how the comments provided were assessed for the final agreement by the press deadline.