Peace River landowners go to court to halt Site C dam

Peace River landowners announced Wednesday they are going to court to stop B.C. Hydro's Site C dam in northeast B.C. on the grounds the provincial and federal governments have not considered a Joint Review Panel's concerns over the need for the $7.9-billion hydroelectric megaproject.

The 54-member Peace Valley Landowner Association has launched a court challenge in B.C. Supreme Court seeking a judicial review of the decision by the provincial Ministry of Environment and Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations to issue an environmental assessment certificate for the 1,100-megawatt dam. Next week, the association says it will launch a second petition for judicial review in Federal Court seeking to quash the federal minister of Environment's decision approving Site C.

"We're doing this not just for ourselves, but for the province," said Renee Ardill, whose grandparents settled in the Peace Valley in 1920 and who stands to lose more than 120 hectares to the dam's reservoir. "The price of this thing is phenomenal and it's not been proven it's needed. There is no real justification; they haven't looked at alternatives."

Ken Boone, whose wife Arlene is a third-generation farmer in the Peace Valley, added in an interview that the governments "chose to ignore certain key parts of what the Joint Review Panel recommended and in our opinion that makes for an invalid" approval of the controversial project.

"They've had 35 years at this and they made a decision and it is incorrect," he continued. "The economics are such an important part. We also know it's an extremely expensive megaproject and to go ahead and issue a certificate without that being examined properly is irresponsible." The federal government on Oct. 14 approved Site C, despite "significant adverse environmental effects" due to its value to the economy. Ottawa set out more than 80 conditions for BC Hydro to meet throughout the life of the project. At the same time, the province issued an environmental assessment certificate to BC Hydro, with 77 conditions. The provincial cabinet is set to make a final decision on the project soon.

BC Hydro says it is ready to start construction of the project in January 2015, with completion in eight years.

Rob Botterell, an associate counsel with Lidstone and Company, said "the panel made various recommendations and findings in relation to cost and need and alternatives, and the government chose not to deal with those recommendations, so the environmental certificate is invalid, an error in law in our view."

The Joint Review Panel concluded Site C is the best and cheapest alternative for new energy in the province, but that the Crown corporation has not proven that the project should proceed at this time.

That finding hearkened back to 1983, during an earlier BC Hydro bid for Site C, when the B.C. Utilities Commission recommended that other energy sources be studied and ruled that projected electricity demands did not then justify the dam project.

The B.C. government has exempted Site C from the scrutiny of BCUC this time around, but the panel concluded it is, in fact, the commission that remains the best bet for wrestling with the thorny issues of need and cost.

The panel concluded "B.C. will need new energy and new capacity at some point. Site C would be the least expensive of the alternatives, and its cost advantages would increase with the passing decades as inflation makes alternatives more costly." The dam would also generate fewer greenhouse gases than any other source except nuclear energy.

But the panel also said BC Hydro "has not fully demonstrated the need for the Project on the timetable set forth," suggesting that the "load forecast and demand side management plan details" be referred to the BCUC.

BC Hydro says about 5,550 hectares of land would be submerged, including the loss of about 3,800 hectares of agricultural land.

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