B.C. Energy Minister Michelle Mungall tours Site C for the first time

B.C. Energy Minister Michelle Mungall put her feet on the ground at Site C for the first time on Friday to get an up-close look at the progress of construction.

"I've been getting regular progress reports ever since I became minister and we decided to go forward with Site C," Mungall said.

"It was time that I came up and saw it from myself. It would have been nice to come sooner, I had a few, literally, bumps along the way to getting here because I had a baby. So I'm here now and very much looking forward to seeing how much work has progressed."

Construction on the hydroelectric project on the Peace River outside Fort St. John began in 2015 under the previous BC Liberal government. In 2017, the NDP government chose to continue construction following a four-month review, and bumped its budget up to $10.7-billion.

On Friday, Mungall was scheduled to tour the work camp and visit the diversion tunnels, generating station, and spillway work sites, as well as Highway 29 realignments and the reservoir area.

"It's a very busy, very active site," Mungall said.

"It's very important that as minister responsible for this project ultimately to the public to come the work being down and I'm going to be looking at everything."

There were nearly 4,900 workers employed on the project in August, a record high.

The project is on schedule, with nearly $7 billion in contracts committed to date, Mungall said.

A project assurance board meets monthly to provide accountability and oversee the project's cost and schedule, Mungall said. The government has also increased reporting to the provincial treasury board, she added.

"There are lots of examples where large projects have been successful in being on time and on budget, and there's lots of examples where they haven't been. There's always a concern to be able to deliver that," Mungall said.

As minister in charge of the file, Mungall has admitted the NDP's decision to continue construction was a difficult one for her. Prior to the provincial election in 2017, she told an event in protest of the project that an NDP government would work to end Site C if it were elected.

On Friday, Mungall noted she lives in an area of the Kootenays where there are 10 dams.

"We're used to dams in the Kootenays, and on one hand we're very proud of the energy we produce for British Columbia. On the other hand, it's sad because of the land that generations before have lost, that generations in the future lost," Mungall said.

"These types of projects, they last for centuries and the land base will never go back to what it was before. That sentiment exists up here in the Peace isn't surprising, and I completely understand it."

"All of us, in the Columbia basin and in the Peace River basin, we're proud that we generate the electricity that British Columbians rely on. But, we've also paid a price for it," Mungall said.

"I'm hoping that going forward ... we can find some reconciliation and some redemption through the Peace River legacy fund, through our proposed agriculture fund, and through our indigenous clean energy fund to see that there's two sides to this coin and we have to acknowledge both of them." 

Email Managing Editor Matt Preprost at editor@ahnfsj.ca.

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