The NDP government's decision to complete the Site C dam despite a $5.3 billion increase in costs was met with swift condemnation by local farmers and First Nations on Friday.
Ken Boon, president of the Peace Valley Landowner Association, called the decision outrageous.
"If there were still people in BC not outraged over the Site C project before, they should all be now," said Boon.
"As in 2017, Premier Horgan assured us that everything will now be OK with the project, and it will be built safely. Those assurances that were made in 2017 turned out to be wrong, as predicted by many, so why would we believe the latest assurances?"
The West Moberly First Nation, which has long opposed the dam, is pursuing a treaty rights infringement case, with a trial set to start next year. West Moberly said the province chose to sink billions more into the project without consulting First Nations or the public.
“We are not at all convinced that this project is safe," said Chief Roland Willson.
"The Premier’s decision has grave consequences for West Moberly and other First Nations. His government had a constitutional duty to consult us. That’s the law. It’s been the law for over 20 years. Yet the Premier hasn’t so much as acknowledged our existence on this issue. Is this what he thinks of Indigenous Peoples? Is this what he means by free, prior and informed consent?”
Premier John Horgan said the estimated cost of the dam is now $16 billion, and nearly double the initial $8.7-billion price tag approved when construction began under the BC Liberals in 2015.
The dam will also be one year behind schedule in completion and commissioning, now expected in 2025.
The impact for BC Hydro ratepayers of the new price tag is estimated to be an additional 3% rate hike — about $36 per year for the average BC Hydro residential customer.
But cancelling the project would result in a $10 billion write-off, borne by taxpayers or ratepayers, and would potentially result in credit rating downgrades for both BC Hydro and the B.C. government, affecting borrowing costs for both, the province said.
"We're confident that the project can and should be completed safely," Horgan said Friday.
Horgan added that the project was one that his government would never have started, but said "we need to stay the course, get this project completed and continue to be world leaders when it comes to green energy."
The West Moberly case is not expected to be heard until next year.
They lost an application for an injunction aimed at halting the project in 2015, and a federal court also rejected their application for a judicial review of the project.
“The court has promised us a judgment before any flooding of the Site C reservoir can begin," Willson said.
"The trial preparation is intense and costly. It’s the last place we want to be, but we’ve never been more sure that Site C is a violation of our treaty rights. If the premier hasn’t been forced to cancel the project by the time our case is decided, the court will have the opportunity to do that for him."
On Friday, Horgan told reporters the province is in discussions with West Moberly on a range of issues of mutual concern.
“We’ve had a very positive working relationship with them when it came to protecting caribou, and the caribou solution that we came up with together was the direct result of extraordinary leadership by West Moberly,” Horgan said.
“This has been a significant concern to West Moberly for decades, and we will continue to work with them to try to find a way forward not just on this project, but all of the other mutual interests and mutual concerns have in their territory.”
But there are other indigenous communities benefiting significantly from the project too, Horgan said.
“They have benefit agreements in place, businesses have been started, small contractors to provide services at the site, people are working on at the site. The net benefit broadly speaking to the Peace country is significant,” Horgan said. “Obviously there are always impacts when you have a project of this magnitude, but on balance we’re confident there’s a net benefit to indigenous and non-indigenous peoples alike.”
— with files from Nelson Bennett/Business in Vancouver
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