Supporters, opponents line up to make their case at Site C review panel hearings

FORT ST. JOHN, B.C. – Supporters of BC Hydro’s Site C hydroelectric project appear to have torn a page from the environmental strategy book, signing up in droves to participate in upcoming federal environmental review hearings.

Thousands of documents had been filed by the Monday night deadline with a joint federal-provincial review panel, including dozens of applications to speak at the hearings beginning Dec. 9 in Fort St. John.

That includes groups as diverse as the BC Business Council, the B.C. Roadbuilders, the Cement Association of B.C. and the New Car Dealers of British Columbia.

The list also includes one-time political heavyweights Blair Lekstrom, the former provincial energy minister, and his predecessor and now Conservative senator, Richard Neufeld. Both represented the Peace River region during their time in politics.

“I live in the Peace Region and have recreated in the effected area on numerous times over my lifetime and recognize that there will be a need to give and take as we move forward as a province,” Lekstrom wrote in his application.

“This project will affect my interests in a way that I am supportive of as it will help ensure we electricity self-sufficient in our province.”

During the hearings next month, Lekstrom said he will address the economic benefits of the project and “the misconception that some people have that this dam is being built so that our province can export the power or that all of this power will be used to run the proposed LNG projects.”

Federal regulations were changed, imposing strict time limit and criteria for participation, after environmental groups encouraged followers to sign up to appear at hearings into the controversial Northern Gateway pipeline proposal.

In that case, community hearings began in January 2012 and wrapped up last June. The Site C hearings are scheduled to being Dec. 9 and wrap up by the end of January.

The Peace River Regional District said it will present the panel with a long list of mitigation measures that will need to be put in place. The district also questioned the business case for the project and the $8-billion price tag, favouring instead gas-generation to meet energy needs.

“It is my suggestion that a moratorium be placed on this process. An overview by (B.C. Utilities Commission) is needed,” Arthur A Hadland, the area director on the regional district.

The cumulative effects of Site C and the Liberal government’s liquefied natural gas plans will be like an “industrial tsunami” in the Peace River region, he said.

The $7.9-billion dam would produce enough electricity to power 450,000 homes per year for 100 years. It would flood about 5,000 hectares of the Peace River Valley, creating an 83-kilometre, 9,300-hectare reservoir between Fort St. John and Hudson’s Hope.

Opponents say the cost, in dollars and to the environment, is too high. BC Hydro says the province cannot meet future energy needs without the green energy of a the massive hydro project.

The dozens who have signed up to oppose the project include Ken and Arlene Boon, ranchers who will lose their home if the project proceeds, and the Treaty 8 Nations.

BC Hydro has said in thousands of pages submitted to the panel that the project will result in some significant adverse environmental, social, economic and health effects.

But “those effects are justified by the need for and benefits, including the benefits to sustainable development,” the Crown agency wrote.

If approved, the project would take seven years to construct and would begin producing electricity in 2022 or 2023.

– By Dene Moore in Vancouver