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Site C to face its first legal battle

The first of several threatened legal challenges against Site C was issued Wednesday.
site c
The Site C dam would be built a few kilometers from the Peace Island Park.

The first of several threatened legal challenges against Site C was issued Wednesday.

The Peace Valley Landowner Association (PVLA) announced that they served a Petition for Judicial Review on the Ministers of Environment and of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations.

The petition seeks to challenge the provincial environmental assessment certificate that these two ministries issued. The PVLA, a grassroots association of local landowners opposed to Site C, also said that next week, it will try and challenge the Federal environmental assessment certificate.

A judicial review is when a court determines whether an administrative decision maker, such as a cabinet, had the proper authority to make the decision it did.

By petitioning the court, the PVLA is hoping to have a court review the governments’ decision to issue environmental certificates.

If the petition succeeds, and a judicial review found that these government ministries overstepped their authority, it might delay or cancel the proposed $7.9 billion hydroelectric dam, set to be built about seven kilometers near Fort St. John.

Maegen Giltrow, PVLA’s legal counsel, said the government has “failed to consider the economic effects of the project.”

Specifically, she continued, the ministers’ decision to issue the certificate was wrong because it failed to heed several recommendations from the Federal-provincial Joint Review Panel that analyzed the potential environmental effects of the project, partially during hearings last winter.

The recommendations that Giltrow said the governments ignored included referring the project to the B.C. Utilities Commission, creating a long-term pricing scenario for electricity and having Hydro create a research and development budget for other alternatives.

According to their petition, by not considering the economic effects, the B.C. government was not following a section of the Environmental Assessment Act.

PVLA President Ken Boon said that the decisions are “seriously flawed.”

“Relevant findings and recommendations of the Site C Joint Review Panel were not considered by the decision makers,” he said in a statement. “We have reluctantly concluded that a court challenge is the only way to ensure that a decision by the BC Cabinet on the Site C Dam is not based on flawed environmental approvals.”

Boon also expressed confidence about the challenge, despite a reluctance to do so.

“This is not where we really wanted to get to, but we really don’t have a choice,” he said.

Another landowner, Renee Ardill, echoed her support of the petition.

“The government has shown to ignore the rest of the Joint Review Panel reports they didn’t like,” she said. “They’ve chosen what they do like, but the ones they don’t like, the financials, they sweep under the rug. If anyone has any common sense at all, they want a review ... Site C should be thrown in the trash bin and never resurrected.”

Even if the government were to repeal their environmental assessment certificate – which Giltrow said was unlikely – the PVLA would want it quashed.

“It’s time to deal with it and to move on to other options,” she said.

Even though a legal challenge has been put forward, work on the project may still continue if the government decides to move ahead.

“The ball’s in the government’s court, and we’ll wait to see how the government responds,” said Rob Bottrell, a lawyer for the PVLA. “One of the reasons we filed in the way we have ... (is) we don’t think it’s in the interests of BC taxpayers affected by this proposed project that work gets underway and costs are incurred when it’s being done on an invalid or flawed environmental assessment.”

The government has not yet announced whether or not it will actually put money towards the Site C project. In recent interviews, B.C. Energy Minister Bill Bennett said he is considering Site C among other alternatives.

Other First Nations groups have also said that they plan to mount legal challenges if Site C goes through. Chief Roland Willson of the West Moberly First Nations has told the Alaska Highway News in the past that a separate legal challenge is “in the works,” which Boon also alluded to on Wednesday.

When asked for comment, Dave Conway, a BC Hydro spokesman, said that his company's "approach to properties affected by Site C is to strive to minimize the amount of land acquired, while maximizing land-use flexibility.”

Conway also said BC Hydro is “committed to an equitable and consistent acquisition process."

Questions sent to both the provincial and Federal Ministries of Environment asking for their comment about the petition were not returned as of press time.     

reporter@ahnfsj.ca