Book excerpt: This Was Our Valley by Shirlee Smith Matheson and Earl K. Pollon

Author Shirlee Smith Matheson will hold a pair of book launch events Friday in Hudson's Hope and Saturday in Fort St. John for her latest edition of This Was Our Valley.

The book details the saga of hydroelectric development on the Peace River, starting with the WAC Bennett Dam in the 1960s, the Peace Canyon Dam in the 1970s and 80s, and the Site C dam today. The book was first released in 1989, with reissues in 1991 and 2003. The latest edition was co-written with Earl K Pollon.

"This new edition of This Was Our Valley registers the voices that demand to be heard. Some are for the project: those of project-owner BC Hydro; contractors and workers who expect employment building Site C dam; and a population that believes the power will be needed in future," a press release reads.

"It also chronicles the opinions of those in protest: Treaty 8 First Nations members; farmers, fishers, and wildlife experts; environmentalists, naturalists, and specialists advocating new technologies such as solar and wind power, or run of the river dams that are less destructive to agricultural and wildlife environments."

Matheson will hold a reading and presentation at the Hudson's Hope Museum on Friday, June 12, at 7 p.m. She'll be at the Fort St. John North Peace Museum Saturday, June 13, at 2 p.m.

An excerpt from the book follows.

Ross Peck has connections to the Peace River Valley and Hudson’s Hope, on both sides of his family. He also retains strong recollections of his grandparents dealing with B.C. Hydro when the W.A.C. Bennett Dam was being built and their properties flooded. Eventually they got a settlement, which, he says, the lawyers took most of, but the whole process destroyed his grandfather.

“And so for us having that history,” Ross says, “and now with our current property on the Peace River being threatened by construction of Site C Dam, do we want to get into bitter and twisted processes to try to get a fair settlement? Or do we just try to figure out what is the least impact way to deal with it?”

The “least impact” might have occurred when B.C. Hydro was offering to buy properties expected to be affected by construction of Site C under a “passive acquisition” system. During that time, the company purchased 97 properties.

“We could have just sold and moved away, got away from it all,” Ross says, “But, we still maintained hope that some sanity would come into this process,” Ross Peck, a naturalist with an undergraduate degree in Geology, and a Master of Science in Wildlife Management, discusses Hydro’s plans to “mitigate” changes and damages likely to occur to the fish and wildlife currently existing in the Peace River, its river islands, and throughout the Valley.

One peculiar plan was revealed to the general public through an article published in The Globe and Mail, on April 10, 2016, titled “Fish Management – Truck and Dump”.

“Of all the jobs created by the $8.8-billion Site C Dam now underway on the Peace River, perhaps the most unusual is fish chauffeur, or trout bus driver if you prefer that title.”

The article describes B.C. Hydro’s fish management plan, filed as part of the environmental-assessment process for the time when Site C Dam would inhibit fish – specifically bull trout – from migrating upstream. A fish ladder at the base of the dam would lead to an ‘anesthetic pool,’ where bull trout, Arctic Grayling and other species would be trapped, drugged, and loaded into tanker trucks. They would then be bused around the dam, and released into the upstream tributaries where they traditionally spawn.

“There are a number of things that damming the lower Peace River would do to fish and wildlife,” Ross Peck notes. “It’s an area that should have been given more consideration by the Joint Review Panel. One would suppose that the Fish and Wildlife Department had presented an analysis to the hearings, but I believe many aspects were given only the token levels required for the environmental assessment, and some were done better than others.

“There will still be animals around, but the area on the whole will be impoverished. There is going to be so much lost for relatively little gain.

“Site C Dam is basically ripping the core out of the Valley.”

Presentations to the Joint [Federal/Provincial] Review Panel had been made by ranchers, residents, First Nations bands, and business and professional people representing areas likely to be affected by Site C dam, its reservoir and/or the necessary realignment to Highway 29.

[However] the initial summary of the panels’ report issued in 2014, stated, in part, “The benefits are clear. Despite high initial costs, and some uncertainty when the power would be needed, the project would provide a large and long-term increment of firm energy and capacity at a price that would benefit future generations”.

It was a “done-deal.”

But two years later, Dr. Swain’s view changed. In 2016, in a statement to the Alaska Highway News, he said that after a thoughtful reevaluation of the reports, presentations and protests. he did not now believe British Columbia needed, or would need in the foreseeable future, the new energy that the Site C Dam was expected to produce.

“If it does,” he said, “there are cheaper, less invasive sources of power that should be used instead of a new hydroelectric dam”.

Dr. Swain’s statement was a barn-burner.

Dave Conway, B.C Hydro’s spokesperson, addressed this turnaround view, insisting that the project was indeed necessary to provide energy demands over the coming 20 years for residential, commercial and industrial customers.

Nature, however, might prove to demonstrate the fallacy of building Site C:

“We’ve just had rain for three days,” Ross says. “Some of these unstable slopes may slide, like they have in the past, and then perhaps some sense will come into this whole thing.”

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

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