In the 18-page summary report released today, the Panel agrees with many of the proposals for mitigating the adverse effects which would be created by the construction of the Site C dam, but at the same time, agrees with the information put forth by First Nations as to damage the dam would cause to their traditional way of life.
“Any large industrial project carries with it some costs that are not captured in a narrowly economic analysis. The question is whether the benefits from the project outweigh those costs.
It is in the nature of a public hearing process that the advocates for each side speak as forcefully as they can, and that there would appear to be no middle ground. The Panel’s mandate required it to weigh both sides, and to present a balance sheet, accounting for its associated recommendations, to allow elected provincial and federal governments to determine if the benefits justify the costs. The decision on whether the Project proceeds is made by elected officials, not by the Panel,” reads the report.
According to the report, the benefits of the project are clear. In spite of initial costs and uncertainty regarding when the power would be needed, the project would provide a large source of long-term energy at a price that would benefit future generations. This energy would be produced in a way that would produce less greenhouse gasses than any alternative energy source besides nuclear power, read the report. Site C’s construction would create a number of economic benefits, including opportunities for jobs and small businesses of all kinds, for everyone.
There are costs to the project. The report acknowledges these and makes some recommendations on how to handle them. However, it made no recommendations on how to handle the fact that agriculture on the river bottom lands would end, and that the protection status of 23 varieties of birds would be elevated as a result of the flooding of the reservoir. The Panel also concluded that the project would have a significant impact on migratory birds relying on valley bottom habitat during their life cycle and these losses would be permanent and cannot be mitigated.
The Panel disagrees with BC Hydro in many of its assertions that the building of Site C would not have an adverse effect on the traditional uses of the land by First Nations. To that end, if the project proceeds, the Panel recommended that the Province set aside the hunting, fishing and trapping rights in the Peace Moberly Tract and enter into discussions with affected First Nations on the area of critical community interest with a view to the harmonious accommodation of all interests in this land.
It agreed with BC Hydro that the quality and quantity of water in the supply wells used by the District of Taylor and the City of Fort St. John would not be affected. At the same time, it disagreed with BC Hydro that individual wells would not be affected, and recommended the the potentially affected wells be monitored twice a year for 10 years from the date of project approval, if the project is approved.
The Panel also concluded that there would be significant cumulative adverse effects on cultural heritage resources, for both Aboriginal and non-aboriginal people, and therefore must undertake measures such as shoreline erosion monitoring, and provide sufficient funds to local accredited facilities near the project to curate and display any items from burial sites the construction might disturb.
Overall, the Joint Review Panel concluded that while BC will need new energy at some point, and Site C will be the least expensive of the alternatives, BC Hydro has not demonstrated the need for the project on the timetable set forth.
While the recommendations and conclusions set out in the report may seem inconclusive, it was not in the Panel’s mandate to make a decision on the project. The agreement was for the Panel to provide recommendations so that the governments involved could draw their own conclusions. It is now up to the governments to make a decision on the future of Site C based on the recommendations set out in the report.