The Site C dam is a proposed 1,100 megawatt hydro dam on the Peace River in northeastern British Columbia, Canada.
(Photo credit: Don Hoffmann)
Overview of the Site C Dam Project
The Site C dam has been proposed since the 1970s and, if built, would be the third dam built on the Peace River. With a price tag of $8.8 billion, the Site C dam is the most expensive public project in B.C. history.
The B.C. government gave Site C the go-ahead in December 2014, but the dam is facing several court challenges from landowners and First Nations who oppose flooding 107 kilometres of the Peace River and its tributaries, putting valuable farmland under water.
The B.C. government has argued the dam is the most cost-effective way to meet the province’s electricity needs and has rejected repeated calls for an independent review of costs by the B.C. Utilities Commission.
Harry Swain, the chair of the joint federal-provincial panel that reviewed the Site C dam, panned the B.C. government’s actions on the dam in March 2015, in comments called “unprecedented” by environmental law experts.
Construction started on the dam in fall 2015 and B.C. Premier Christy Clark has vowed to get it past the “point of no return.” Protesters prevented logging at historic Rocky Mountain Fort for two months, but BC Hydro won an injunction against them in early March and the protesters removed their camp.
Four legal cases are still in the courts and questions about the need for the electricity remain. First Nations, Amnesty International, the David Suzuki Foundation and the Royal Society of Canada called on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to halt construction permits until the court cases have been heard — but the Trudeau government issued permits allowing construction to move ahead on July 27, 2016.
The Site C dam is shaping up to be an election issue in the May 2017 B.C. election, with the B.C. NDP vowing to send the Site C dam for an independent review by the B.C. Utilities Commission if elected.
DeSmog Canada's latest news coverage on the Site C Dam
BC Hydro officials and members of Premier Christy Clark and Energy Minister Bill Bennett’s offices were all involved in a coordinated attempt to discredit DeSmog Canada’s reporting on the $8.8 billion Site C hydroelectric dam, according to documents obtained through Freedom of Information requests.
The documents detail a flurry of e-mails following a DeSmog Canada story that quoted former BC Hydro CEO Marc Eliesen saying that Site C was proceeding without due diligence, would lead to escalating hydro rate increases and was “scheduled to become a big white elephant,” a story later referenced by the New York Times.
BC Hydro officials were concerned that major B.C. media would pick up on the DeSmog Canada story, based largely on a BC Hydro progress report to the B.C. Utilities Commission. That report noted that Site C had fallen behind on four out of seven key milestones and outlined project risks and reasons why Site C had spent more money than anticipated by the end of last March, while saying that the project’s overall forecast still remained on track.
Two enforcement orders released by the B.C. Environmental Assessment Office detail BC Hydro’s failure to comply with environmental protection rules during construction of the Site C dam.
The orders, issued to BC Hydro in late December and first reported by the Globe and Mail on Sunday, detail on-site inspections that found BC Hydro out of compliance with permit conditions related to the protection of drinking water and amphibian species.
One non-compliance order found BC Hydro failed to comply with two conditions outlined in Site C construction permits for the protection of amphibian species.
Condition 19 requires BC Hydro to “avoid and reduce injury and mortality to amphibians on roads adjacent to wetlands and other areas where amphibians are known to migrate across roads.”
A related condition, number 16, requires BC Hydro to conduct amphibian surveys at Portage Mountain to “identify specific mitigation structures and placement prior to road construction.”
However in late August, Alex McLean, a compliance inspector with the B.C. Environmental Assessment Office found BC Hydro had constructed an access road at Portage Mountain without conducting amphibian surveys or installing amphibian mitigation structures.
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.
Those are the words of Harry Swain, who chaired the review of the Site C dam, in an affidavit filed in federal court this week.
The route chosen by BC Hydro for a Site C dam highway relocation will “desecrate” a First Nations burial ground and destroy a culturally significant site used by the Dunne-za people for millennia, says West Moberly First Nations Chief Roland Willson.
“This is a very serious matter,” Willson wrote in a letter to B.C. Transportation Minister Todd Stone, co-signed by Prophet River First Nation Chief Lynette Tsakoza. “Digging up graves is not acceptable in our custom.”
Willson told DeSmog that the graves are in an area of the Peace River valley known locally as Bear Flats/Cache Creek, which BC Hydro plans to clear cut this winter for the first phase of a $530 million project to move 30 kilometres of a provincial highway out of the Site C dam flood zone.
“If you were to get lost in the bush, I could find you.”
It’s an oddly placed sentiment in the city heat of Marrakech, Morocco, yet an entirely appropriate one for an indigenous panel at the UN climate talks hosted by Canada’s Minister of Environment and Climate Change, Catherine McKenna.
Francois Paulette, revered Canadian indigenous leader and elder from the Dene Nation, told an international crowd of delegates, campaigners and press that back in Canada, his place is in the wild.
It is there Paulette learned from his elders the meaning of sin: “The biggest sin a man can make is to abuse the earth.”
“And now that’s why we’re in the place we’re in and why there is global warming.”
Although Paulette said he is not one for the city — he’d rather be on a riverbank back home in the Northwest Territories — he’s no stranger to international diplomacy. At his sixth UN climate summit, Paulette is more determined than ever to ensure indigenous perspectives and rights are central to international climate plans.
By all appearances Canada seems determined to do the same.
British Columbians overwhelmingly want BC Hydro’s Site C dam sent for an independent review and support pausing construction on the $8.8 billion project while alternatives are investigated, according to a new poll conducted by Insights West.
The poll, sponsored by readers of DeSmog Canada, found that 73 per cent of British Columbians support sending the Site C dam for an independent review of both costs and demand, as recommended by the Joint Review Panel in its 2014 report.
Seven in 10 respondents supported pausing construction of Site C to investigate alternatives to meet future power demand.
“When pondering Site C, British Columbians are favouring caution and not hubris,” said Mario Canseco, vice president of public affairs at Insights West. “Most are willing to switch the focus to efficiency and alternative sources.”
Last week DeSmog Canada published a video about the Site C dam on Facebook that — after generating nearly 120,000 views in 36 hours — was suddenly removed due to a complaint lodged by True North Entertainment, a B.C. government contractor.
The video, Cutting Through the Spin on the Site C Dam, featured an interview with Harry Swain, chair of the provincial-federal panel responsible for reviewing the controversial hydro dam.
Swain, a high-profile critic of Site C, explained why he thinks it’s a mistake to build the dam and how the B.C. government has changed its story over the years to justify the $9-billion project, the most expensive public infrastructure project in the province’s history.
The five-minute video featured footage almost exclusively filmed by DeSmog Canada but also included some small selections of b-roll footage from the Province of B.C.’s YouTube page.
There are a number of arguments against the controversial Site C dam, planned for the Peace River Valley: it floods First Nations land against their consent; it will destroy prized agricultural land; it requires expropriating land from B.C. families and farmers; it will increase the cost of electricity for power B.C. doesn’t even need.
A variety of experts have also come forward to say the project wasn’t properly reviewed and that the B.C. government failed to explore alternatives to the $9 billion project — the most expensive public infrastructure project in the province’s history.
But what are the arguments for the Site C dam? And do they have any merit?
DeSmog Canada’s Emma Gilchrist met with Harry Swain, the man appointed by the B.C. government to chair the joint review panel for Site C, to discuss some of the most commonly used arguments to justify the project.
Scientists have discovered rare and notable species in the Site C dam flood zone that were missed in BC Hydro’s environmental assessment of the $8.8 billion project, including spider and true bug species new to Canada and bumblebee and snail species vulnerable to extinction.
The findings underscore the rich biodiversity of the Peace River Valley, a northern low-elevation valley that remains “poorly known biologically in British Columbia,” said David Langor, president of the Biological Survey of Canada, a non-profit organization that coordinates scientific research.
“If we were to have a more intensive sampling I’m quite sure that we would come up with quite a pile of other things that are interesting, unique and outside of normal ranges, and perhaps even species that are new to science,” Langor, an Edmonton-based biologist, told DeSmog Canada.