BC Hydro plans to expropriate the home of Peace Valley farmers Ken and Arlene Boon before Christmas, following the couple’s refusal to sign over their top class farmland for the Site C dam, DeSmog Canada has learned.
The Boons said that the $8.8 billion dam could still be stopped and they are not budging from their third-generation family home, farmland, garden, greenhouse and workshop to make way for a Site C highway relocation until they are forced to leave.
“We’re at peace with the idea of going to expropriation,” Ken Boon said in an interview.
“Arlene and I agreed we didn’t want to sign anything over. It just goes against every bone in our bodies. They’ll have to take it from us.”
BC Hydro will seize the Boon’s farmhouse and 130 hectares of their land on or around December 16, according to the couple. They say they will be permitted to stay in their farmhouse as BC Hydro’s tenants until May 31, three weeks after the B.C. provincial election, and to farm their riverside fields for three more years even though BC Hydro will own the land.
“I don’t think they wanted to kick us out during the election campaign,” said Boon.
In return, the Boons reluctantly agreed to sign a legal document stating that they will not interfere with construction of the highway, which will go right through the farmhouse built by Arlene’s grandfather and also through the farmhouse of a neighbouring property.
Both homes are high enough that they would not be affected by flooding from the Site C reservoir, which will inundate 107 kilometres of the Peace River and its tributaries, a distance almost the equivalent of driving from Victoria to Nanaimo.
“It just sticks in your craw to sign any sort of agreement with BC Hydro…[but] their schedule is to expropriate this land. That will happen no matter what we do,” said Boon, who is the president of the Peace Valley Landowners Association, representing 70 landowners who will be affected by Site C.
Ken and Arlene Boon's farm. The Peace River can be seen in the distance. Photo: Garth Lenz/DeSmog Canada
BC Hydro says it must acquire the Boon’s property, along with seven other properties in the Bear Flat/Cache Creek area, for the first segment of a six-phase, 30-kilometre Site C highway relocation that it previously reported will cost $530 million.
An alternate route, shortlisted by BC Hydro and requested by First Nations and Peace Valley landowners, was not selected because it would cost more and affect more agricultural land, according to an information sheet that BC Hydro spokesperson Dave Conway provided to DeSmog Canada.
No detailed information about the relative merits and costs of the two routes has been released by BC Hydro or the B.C. Transportation Ministry, despite requests by the Peace Valley Landowners Association and NDP Transportation Critic Claire Trevena.
The Boons made the difficult decision to face expropriation after they heard October 11 from the lawyer they share with the seven other Cache Creek landowners that BC Hydro required their properties to be signed over by October 31, two months earlier than the previous deadline BC Hydro had named.
Until March, the Cache Creek landowners believed they would be able to stay in their homes for at least several more years because the Peace River Valley, known for its rich farmland, wildlife, old-growth forests and numerous archeological and historic sites, is not slated to be flooded until 2024.
The new acquisition deadline was subsequently moved to November 4, then to noon on November 10, and finally set at 1 p.m. November 21, according to the Boons, leaving landowners scrambling under intense pressure to settle the terms for handing over their properties.
Boon said the couple did not want to give BC Hydro the opportunity to announce and post on social media that “all the landowners have signed agreements” when they are selling their houses and farmlands “under duress.” He said he understands why other Cache Creek landowners decided to sign over their properties to BC Hydro rather than risk the financial and personal consequences of going to expropriation.
“All landowners know that no matter which route they choose, they will lose their property.”
A second Cache Creek landowner, contacted by DeSmog, said they were unable to comment publicly on what they called a stressful decision “under duress” to sign over their farmland and could not be named publicly because they are still negotiating with BC Hydro on other matters.
Ken Boon on his Peace Valley farmland. Photo: Garth Lenz/DeSmog Canada
Clara London, who is Arlene Boon’s sister and owns farmland adjacent to the Boons, said she and her husband declined to sign over seven hectares of land to BC Hydro and are also facing expropriation. “Our loss is actually pretty small compared to Ken and Arlene,” London said in an interview, adding that the process has been “very frustrating” and has placed a great deal of stress on her family.
“We don’t agree with the project in general.”
Earlier this year, BC Hydro spokesperson Dave Conway told DeSmog Canada that BC Hydro has the legal authority to expropriate land but prefers to “come to a negotiated settlement with people.” Conway also said that BC Hydro cannot discuss negotiations with individual landowners.
Notice of BC Hydro’s new timeline for property purchases arrived the same month that the Boon’s farm became the focus of the Yellow Stakes campaign, led by the West Moberly and Prophet River First Nations to raise money for their on-going court cases against Site C. Almost 400 stakes have been pounded into the ground beside the Boon’s farmhouse, along the centerline for the planned highway re-alignment.
For the Boons, expropriation comes with greater financial and personal risks than signing over their land, says Ken Boon. “We do worry about getting hung out to dry. But at the end of the day there was no way we were going to sign it over to them.”
The Boons, along with four other Peace Valley residents, have the added stress of being named in a civil law suit filed last January by BC Hydro when they were among dozens of people involved in a winter camp at the Rocky Mountain Fort site, in an effort to prevent clearcutting of the protected old-growth forest surrounding the Class 1 B.C. heritage site.
The on-going suit, which accuses the Boons and others of conspiracy, intimidation, trespass and “intentional interference with economic relations by unlawful means” and which seeks damages for BC Hydro, has been called a matter of grave concern by the B.C. Civil Liberties Association.
The Boons said the agreement they signed with BC Hydro to allow them to stay in their home until the end of May means they can continue to voice their strong dissent to Site C, but it prohibits them from “interfering” with the project by blocking work on the highway or engaging in civil disobedience elsewhere.
The expropriation will strip the Boons of 130 hectares of land, leaving them with full ownership of 33 devalued hectares of land flanking the new highway and 25 hectares of land over which BC Hydro will place a statutory right of way, according to the couple. They say they will be left with only four hectares of farmland since most of their remaining land will consist of hillside native grassland and wildlife habitat. After May, the Boons plan to move to a cabin they own, only metres from the new highway route.
“We feel better right now that we’ve made the decision,” said Arlene Boon. “It’s going to be a roller-coaster, I know.”
In response to questions from DeSmog Canada about the Cache Creek property acquisitions and potential expropriations, Conway emailed a link to a BC Hydro information sheet. Conway said in another email that BC Hydro is unable to release a current cost estimate for the highway work because it has “not yet entered the procurement stage.”
BC Hydro informed the Boons and other landowners that it needed to acquire their properties by October 31 to avoid destroying songbird nests when trees are logged and vegetation removed for highway construction, a rationale that leaves the Boons incredulous.
“It’s not a valid excuse,” said Ken Boon, pointing out that the couple’s farmhouse is not in the way of trees nor in the Cache Creek valley bottom slated for clear-cutting.
Logging of active songbird nests is prohibited under the B.C. Wildlife Act and the international Convention on Migratory Birds that Canada has signed to protect songbird species, which are in sharp decline around the world.
Arlene Boon said she was taken aback to read news stories this past week saying that the B.C. government is trying to drive demand for electricity because of a surplus.
B.C. Premier Christy Clark is again talking about shipping power from the Site C dam to Alberta, underscoring once more that Site C’s power is not needed in British Columbia.
“It just makes your blood boil. It reinforces what we’ve been saying all along,” said Arlene Boon. “They don’t have a need for this project and are still looking for someone to buy the power.”
“To lose low elevation bottomland farmland to electrify the oilsands does not seem very ethical. To think that we’re going to lose our home and land to that is very disturbing to us.”
Image: Arlene Boon picks from her fall harvest of swiss chard. Photo: Garth Lenz/DeSmog Canada