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Site C meeting met without protest

Work continues on developing environmental impact statement

BC Hydro is one step closer to making Site C become a reality in the Peace Region.

Another piece of the puzzle, the environmental assessment guidelines, have recently been developed. These are what the power company will use to create their environmental impact statement.

"We're very happy that the guidelines have been finalized because that tells us what the environmental impact statement has to contain," said Dave Conway, BC Hydro's community relations manager for the Site C project.

"An initial draft of the guidelines was developed by the proponent, BC Hydro, and then reviewed by a working group comprised of representatives of federal, provincial and territorial government agencies (including those of B.C., Alberta and the Northwest Territories), Aboriginal groups and local governments," said Lucille Jamault, spokesperson for the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency by email.

"The proponent provided detailed responses to all working group comments, and these comments and responses were considered by the agency and the BC EAO (British Columbia Environmental Assessment Office) in amending the guidelines," Jamault continued.

From April 17 to June 1 of this year, the guidelines were available for public comment. There were public commenting sessions throughout the Peace Region at that time.

She noted that the public's input impacted the "presentation and organization" of the environmental impact statement, "alternatives to and alternative means of carrying out the project, effects assessment methodology, including spatial boundaries of the assessment" and "information on existing hydroelectric facilities on the Peace River."

Jamault said the guidelines were revised by the agency and the BC EAO, and approved by the federal Minister of Environment and the executive director of the BC EAO, then subsequently issued to BC Hydro.

She noted that all comments were given "full and fair consideration."

"It was not possible to accept all of the proposed revisions that were received from various parties participating in the process as many different considerations needed to be balanced," she said.

The guidelines were issued to BC Hydro on Sept. 7.

"We're glad that they have been finalized and we're able to have what is expected of us by the regulators in the environmental impact statement," said Conway.

BC Hydro will be hosting a string of open houses and stakeholders meetings regarding the Site C dam project in the Peace Region.

These consultations are to answer questions and receive feedback from the public.

There were nearly 21 people who attended the open house in Dawson Creek last night, and not a single protester made an appearance during the evening. The afternoon stakeholder meeting saw 25 people come through.

If the project goes through, Ken Boon stands to lose much of his land, and he and his wife have been fighting this project since its onset.

Esther Peterson said she also stands to lose her farmland.

"We're the closest to the project," she said. "We'll be losing our hay land, our hay shed and our buildings if this project goes through.

"I'll be losing my whole farm," she continued.

She said they've been farming since 1970, and she's one of five or six farms that will be losing their land.

Boon and Peterson were two of many protesters in Fort St. John.

Conway appeared surprised there were no protesters in Dawson Creek last night; however, protest numbers have fluctuated.

"Over the course of the last five years, there's been protests," he said. "It really has varied over that period of time."

He said he's not sure why that may be.

"I think what's important though is that they're always welcome," said Conway. "We're always looking for that input.

"They have a right to a peaceful protest and we respect their right and we'll continue to do that," he continued.

The information being gathered by BC Hydro this week is one of the steps required in order for the assessment to be complete.

Jamault noted that BC Hydro is to prepare the environmental impact statement "in accordance" with these guidelines and subsequently submit it to the agency and to the environmental assessment office.

"The agency and the EAO will make the EIS (environmental impact statement) available for a public comment period of 60 days," she said.

Once that is complete the agency and the EAO will decide with the statement is "satisfactory to them."

Once that has been determined, the federal and provincial ministers will establish a joint review panel, who will then conduct the environmental assessment, "which includes holding a public hearing followed by the submission of their report to the provincial and federal governments."

Jamault said the timeline for the joint review panel is 225 days from the time they receive the environmental impact statement from BC Hydro.

Conway said BC Hydro plans to submit their environmental impact statement early in 2013.