Site C shovels may hit dirt in July, regardless of lawsuits

Site C construction could begin as early as July regardless of whether any of the lawsuits aimed at stopping the dam are concluded, the project's spokesperson told Dawson Creek City Council Monday.

Site C Community Relations Manager David Conway said he expected lawsuits "will be ongoing through the early stages of construction" on the dam.

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That was a surprise for Coun. Charlie Parslow, who asked about construction timelines during a question and answer session with the BC Hydro official. Conway told the councillor that construction could begin as early as next month.

"So all of those lawsuits are going to be dealt with by then?" Parslow asked.

"No. I suspect a number of the lawsuits will still be ongoing," Conway said.

Conway was at Monday's meeting as part of a tour to local governments in the Peace ahead of the start of construction.”

He said that the dam, which the government approved in December, still required 45 provincial permits ahead of construction, as well as federal authorizations related to fisheries and navigable waters.

He said that BC Hydro's latest budget estimates peg the cost of building the dam at $8.35 billion, though most cite the $8.8 billion price tag at the time the government approved the dam.

Allison Russell, a lawyer at the firm representing a group of First Nations challenging the dam, said that lawsuits don't necessarily prevent construction from beginning.

"If that's what they're saying, that they're going to proceed unless a judge tells them not to, they're entitled to do that," she told Alaska Highway News, adding "I think though there are separate issues with consultation with our client that they need to be mindful of."

It's unclear when a decision will be reached on any of the Site C lawsuits.

Russell's firm is representing the Prophet River First Nation, West Moberly First Nation and McLeod Lake Indian Band in B.C. provincial court. The same three First Nations, along with the Doig River Band, have launched a federal treaty rights challenge.

The Blueberry River First Nation's suit over the cumulative impacts of industrial development on their traditional territory could also affect Site C , while the Athabasca Chipewyan and Mikisew Cree First Nations have a suit in federal court over the dam's impacts on the Athabasca River delta.

Landowners in the Peace River valley also have a pair of lawsuits in both provincial and federal court.

Earlier this month, the parties were unclear on when a decision might be reached in any of those cases. Parslow said he was "shocked" that BC Hydro is not waiting on the outcomes before putting shovels in the ground.

"I would have thought it's like buying a house," he told Alaska Highway News. "You don't own it until there's been some research on whether the title is clear, that there are no liens against it. In my naivety I thought these lawsuits were like a lien against a property. I thought it would be an impediment to them clearing land and blocking rivers."                         

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