One Site C alternative proposed in Dawson Creek yesterday may not be politically popular.
"I propose we build a nuclear plant besides the government legislature, and maybe one near Stanley Park (in Vancouver)," landowner Roy Kelly told a panel. "Apparently they're more pristine than our valley ... damn it – this is my pristine backyard, and I don't want to see it disappear."
Kelly was one of about a dozen affected residents who spoke to an independent Joint Review Panel convened by provincial and Federal environmental regulators to hear concerns about the proposed hydroelectric dam at the George Dawson Inn on Tuesday.
Kelly said that his property would be negatively affected by the flooding that could be caused by the dam. He was, perhaps not surprisingly, against it. For him, the negative consequences of earlier dam projects and the amount of debt that BC Hydro would take on because of the project were his main reasons for opposing the plan.
Others also spoke against the project, making a wide variety of arguments. However, many of those who spoke were against the project because of the loss of farmland the dam would cause.
Leading members of the British Columbia Women's Institute (BCWI) said that the Peace River valley is "valuable food-producing land" and that these types of lands must be preserved.
To them, B.C. should be more "food secure" and "food sovereign" – security, meaning that people have access to safe food, and sovereignty, meaning that it is not imported from elsewhere.
"It is estimated that 40 to 50 per cent of food consumed in BC is imported," said Patsy Nagel. "Shame on us."
To illustrate the fragility of farmable land, she took an apple, asking the panel to imagine it represented the entire mass of the earth. Of this mass, only a strip of apple skin about as big as her pinky finger would be considered suitable for farming.
Maya Wenger, another member of the BCWI, said that the affected farmland's food production could be needed in the future. She asked that the panel consider the horticultural aspects of the valley, as well.
This was also touched on by Kevin Knoblauch, a Taylor-based horticulturalist.
"I believe that by building Site C, we are destroying forever a very finite resource ... we have a duty to protect what I consider to be a very finite resource for that future population," he said. "If well farmed, the lands along the Peace River valley will grow food in abundance for the next 1,000 years. I am told that our hydroelectric dams will last about 100 years, or less."
To Knoblauch, the potential of the land for B.C. horticulture was the best north of the Okanagan Valley. Knoblauch said that he has produced $9,000 per acre per year. If 1,000 acres were lost because of Site C, this would amount to $9 million per year. (Previously released figures put the potential loss of farmland to flooding at closer to 10,000 acres.)
"It is totally false to present the Site C reservoir as a source of irrigation water for the remaining adjacent farmlands," Knoblauch told the panel.
He believed that the government should address any lost growing potential into their calculations, and felt that the horticultural aspect of the land was not properly recognized.
Hudson's Hope Mayor Gwen Johansson said that her freezer was full of field tomatoes and corn grown on her property, which would be near the Site C dam.
"The proponent has concluded that impact of Site C on agriculture would be an insignificant loss, and I believe that would be incorrect," she said. "I believe that there are other ways of getting the electricity if we need it."
Fort St. John resident Diane Culling said that she felt not enough was done by BC Hydro to explore greener alternatives.
"Not only have we not picked the low-hanging fruit of energy conservation, we haven't even bent over to pick up the energy conservation at their feet," she said.
She also criticized the income disparity between protesters and BC Hydro for their ability to support or oppose the project: "BC Hydro has spent millions of dollars to get to this point, and we have been picking beer cans (for recycling money). When we're done with this, we're going to need to send a thank you note to (beer company) Anheuser-Busch."
In response to some of the concerns raised at the hearing, Susan Yurkovich, executive vice-president for Site C at BC Hydro, said that energy conservation was part of their overall plans. She said that 78 per cent of future growth would be realized through energy conservation and other changes.
The issue of horticulture was also addressed in her comments. Yurkovich said there would be "no reduction in agricultural capability or utility" based on how agricultural land was currently used.
"We do believe as well that agricultural capability in future could be increased in the future with application of agricultural fund to support of that goal," she said.
Not all of those who spoke at Dawson Creek's meeting were against the proposal, however.
Paul Gevatkoff, president of the South Peace Oilmen's Association, said that his organization "strongly" supported the dam. To him, it would provide a dependable source of power for the local oil and gas industry.
"We are not going to get industrial development without proper infrastructure, which includes electricity," he said.
"We recognize there's an impact to construction with a dam, the same as all industry," he said.
"We feel this small sacrifice is warranted, and other benefits accrue to offset losses."
However, he said that compensation must be fair, and that the public must have access to the reservoir.
Attendee Verena Hofmann asked Gevatkoff whether or not he thought Site C would negatively impact the oil and gas industry.
"I don't think oil and gas industry will falter if Site C doesn't go ahead," he said. "It will provide employment for other areas of Canada where unemployment is high."
Wayne Dahlen, another resident, spoke in support of the project to the panel.
"When you look at the big picture, from the people who will benefit from this dam, its a very small fraction of the people that will be affected," he said. "As long as (BC Hydro is) aware of these disruptions and make every effort to compensate towns like Fort St. John and Dawson Creek and First Nations ... I am confident that common sense will prevail and industrial development will continue with little or no disruption."
The New Car Dealers Association of B.C. also spoke in favour. Blair Qualey, the group's president, said that the project would help meet future energy demands, including those needed to power electric vehicles that industry expects to sell.
Jim Inkster, also of the Dealers Association, spoke about the benefits previous Peace River dams brought by giving steady income to people who may not have had it otherwise.
"We have benefitted from both dams, and we will benefit from Site C," he said. "Let's build it."