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Site C opponents keeping an eye on dam's construction from new observation shack

It’s a humble shack with a $9-billion view.
George Desjarlais looks through a telescope at the Site C dam construction from an observation shack built by the Treaty 8 Tribal Association overlooking the Peace River.

It’s a humble shack with a $9-billion view.

The Treaty 8 Tribal Association has set up an observation shack overlooking the Peace River at the Site C dam site where opponents and other interested parties can watch what critics say is the destruction of the Peace River valley.

The shack, located to the northwest of the dam construction, has just enough room for a furnace, some tables, a couch, and a telescope. The shack is on Crown land, accessible through the property of Esther and Paul Pedersen.

The shack was built "because we feel that already there's been some infractions and we want to be able to record that," Pedersen said during a media tour last week.

"We want people to be able to see it. The whole site's been shut off and I think that's wrong. B.C. taxpayers are paying for it and they should have access to see it anytime they want.

Those who wish to visit the shack and look at the construction must first get permission from the Pedersens and a few others.

Pedersen is opposed to the project.

“Site C stands for Christy Clark cancer of the Peace Valley,” she said. “This is cancer, and it’s spreading fast… there’s no way they have to clear this land (for prep work).”

Pedersen said she, and other opponents, want to be able to report possible infractions made by Hydro during the dam’s construction.

One of the people who plans to monitor the area is George Desjarlais, a former chief of the West Moberly First Nation. 

“Part of the plan is to have some people camping up here,” he said. “I hope to be able to come and do that, three nights here in the near future when I have the opportunity.”

Desjarlais recalled when he and a few others hunted moose in the Peace River Valley area last fall, when the south bank of the river was still heavily forested.

“We’ve seen an elk and a brown bear down there,” Desjarlais said, pointing to an area now illuminated by the light of heavy industrial machinery. That area is now home to a long loop of road for construction traffic.

“I don’t see how you can call this progress,” said Desjarlais. “The process being implemented is a direct infringement of our treaty rights… It’s going to destroy prime wildlife habitat along the whole valley.”

An environmental review panel concluded last year that some of the dam’s impacts on treaty rights can’t be mitigated.

Craig Benjamin, a campaigner for the human rights of Indigenous people for Amnesty International, saw the new observation shack up close on Thursday.

Benjamin has been up to the region before, and he said he came back to maintain ties with groups opposed to the project.

“We have to stand here and see the destruction that’s already occurred when the court cases still haven’t been resolved," he said.

"And by the admission of BC Hydro that the fundamental issue of whether or not this is fundamentally compatible with the treaty obligations of B.C. and the federal government has never been addressed (in court) is quite extraordinary.”

If Site C were to be built, the damage done to these First Nation treaty rights could not be repaired, Benjamin said.

“(The newly elected federal Liberal government) has been very clear to build a new relationship (with First Nations), enshrined in the constitution, enshrined in international law,” he explained. “From our point of view, there’s only one conclusion they have: to oppose Site C and withdraw federal government support of the project.”

[Editor's note: A previous version of this story said the shack was built for those wanting to view construction of the dam. Esther Pedersen, who is quoted in the article, has made clear to us that the shack is meant to "view the destruction" of the Peace River valley and to record infractions made by contractors working at the site. In an email to the Alaska Highway News, Pedersen writes: "The shacks are set up so we can watch and record the daily infractions happening outside of permitted work, and so folks can come and view the destruction of our valley BC Hydro is desperately (trying) to hide from public view."]

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