Three years ago, on December 11, 2017 the NDP Premier of British Columbia John Horgan gave the greenlight to the Site C hydroelectric dam set to be built in northeast B.C. Since then, construction
of the dam has continued full speed ahead despite violations of Indigenous rights, critical safety concerns and billion-dollar cost overruns.
These scandals and cover-ups brought the Site C Dam into the spotlight during the October 2020 BC elections. Rightfully so, because there are important, unanswered questions about the dam itself and
the justifications to proceed with the construction.
Is the Site C Dam Needed?
One might think that a hydroelectric dam offers “clean” electricity generation, but there are several critical environmental impacts brought on by a mega-project such as Site C. This includes the devastation caused by the construction of the dam including the cutting down of trees and flooding of a valley, as well as the methane gases and poisonous methyl mercury that is created by the decaying vegetation within the newly created reservoir.
Adding another dam to the Peace River will undoubtedly disrupt the fragile and unique ecosystem of the Peace Athabasca Delta, but the devastation runs much deeper than the direct impact on the river and the land itself. As reported in a 2016 UBC Study, “Site C has more significant adverse environmental effects than any project ever reviewed under the history of the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, including impacts on dozens of species, aquatics, vegetation, wildlife, Aboriginal use of lands and resources, and cultural heritage.”
Despite this, the BC government and BC Hydro continue to insist that the destruction is justified, because the electricity that Site C will generate is necessary. This, however, is a fabrication.
Even with a growing population and economy, electricity demand in BC since 2005 has been stagnant. Further to this, in his 2017 submission to the BC Utilities Commission Marc Eliesen, a former BC
Hydro CEO and President said, “There never was a business case for the start-up of construction of Site C, and there is not a business case to support its continuation or postponement.”
If and when more electricity is needed, there are many other alternatives to this disastrous project.
What is the Land Being Flooded?
When completed, Site C will flood an area of about 5,500 hectares of the Peace River valley south of Fort St. John, BC. This area includes land that is covered by the Treaty 8 territories of the Prophet
River Band and the West Moberly First Nation. Both nations have opposed Site C. The Prophet River Band has now signed an agreement with BC Hydro meaning that they will no longer pursue the case in
court. However, the West Moberly First Nation has an ongoing civil court case against BC Hydro, the BC government, and the Attorney General of Canada for violations of the Treaty.
By pushing ahead with Site C, the government of BC is violating Indigenous rights to their land and self-determination. This exposes the complete hypocrisy and true intentions of the NDP government
of BC. In 2019, they passed the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People into law – but they do not intend to honour the parts of the document that call for the “free, prior, and
informed consent,” of Indigenous peoples regarding projects that will impact them.
35,000 acres of the land being flooded is also invaluable farmland. As Agrologist Wendy Holm stated in her October 11, 2020 editorial in The Province, “The B.C. Peace Valley farmland to be flooded by the Site C dam ranks as some of the highest capability land in Canada.”
Is Site C Safe?
Although the fertile land of the Peace River Valley is ideal for growing food, it is terrible for supporting a massive structure such as the Site C dam. On July 31, 2020, BC Hydro finally made public the serious geotechnical concerns that continue to plague the project that they had known about for more than a year. The soft shale that it is being built on is not capable of supporting the project.
Site C is located right in the middle of a fracking induced earthquake zone. Hydraulic fracturing,
known as fracking, is a process of extracting natural gas from below the earth’s surface using massive amounts of pressurized water, sand, and chemicals. As reported by the CBC, in the areas surrounding
Site C there have been nearly 6,000 earthquakes caused by fracking between 2017-2019. This includes a 4.5 magnitude quake that caused an evacuation of workers at Site C in November 2018.
Just as the BC government and BC Hydro have ignored serious concerns about the safety of the dam itself, contractors working on the Site-C project have also shown disregard for workers safety. In
February 2020 WorkSafeBC fined Peace River Hydro Partners Construction Ltd (PRHP) almost $1 million for safety violations, incidents with "a high risk of serious injury, illness or death,” as reported
by CBC. As well, construction has not only continued, but escalated during the Covid-19 pandemic, putting workers and the surrounding remote communities at unnecessary risk.
How much will it cost?
This growing catastrophe is now projected to cost $12.5 billion or more. It is the largest publicly
funded infrastructure project in BC history. Today, BC Hydro is not reporting or speculating on
the project cost-overruns caused by the geotechnical issues – they don’t know how to fix it and
they don’t know how much it will cost.
As Andrew Nikiforuk wrote in the Tyee in August 2020, “So what began as a $3.3-billion curved dam under premier Gordon Campbell in 2005 became a $7.9-billion, L-shaped project under Clark. The new
design added an additional $4-billion cost to the project, a great deal for contractors seeking longer and fatter pay cheques. Under Horgan’s administration, the over-budget project has marched into $10.7-billion territory. And now, based on the latest problems, it is likely to become a $15-billion fiasco — Horgan’s Folly.”
The Site C dam is now costing people in BC about $100 million a month. This money could be spent on other much needed infrastructure and social support projects including those in healthcare,
education, and housing.
The Struggle to Cancel Site-C Continues!
In December 2020 it is expected that the NDP government of BC will make another announcement regarding Site C. Earlier this year, BC NDP Premier John Horgan appointed Peter Milburn to
complete yet another review of the project, in response to increasing pressure from people in BC to cancel the project.
During this period, it is important that we do not “wait and see,” for Premier Horgan to announce the BC government’s decision. There is already more than enough evidence that this dangerous, costly, and unnecessary project must be cancelled immediately. Now is the time to increase the pressure on the government of BC to cancel this disastrous project once and for all.
As Ken Boon, the President of the Peace Valley Landowners Association reminded us during the Climate Convergence Metro Vancouver webinar on Site C held on November 25, 2020, "It is not too late on that front to stop Site C. Trees will grow back, nature will heal the valley. That is a very important thing to note."
Decisions are being made by capitalist and imperialist governments that put the interests of corporations ahead of those of the planet and poor and working people. However, if we can work together to build a consistent and united mass movement in defense of Mother Earth – it is not too late to reverse the unbelievable damage that the capitalist system has unleashed on humanity and the
planet in the last 150 years.
It is time to unite our fight in BC to cancel the Site C dam, with the struggle against the Muskrat Falls dam in Newfoundland and Labrador in Eastern Canada, and the struggles of our co-fighters around the world. Poor, working people must come together and organize a coordinated and consistent campaign for Mother Earth.
For more information about how to get involved in the struggle for climate justice here in BC, and the campaign against Site C (including sample letters to use to write your MLA, and educational materials
that can be shared with others!) visit the website of Climate Convergence Metro Vancouver at: climateconvergence.ca
Follow Alison on Twitter: @Alisoncolette
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