As construction on the controversial Site C Dam continues in northeastern British Columbia, the provincial government has confirmed that it has no plans to add new conditions to the $10.7-billion hydroelectric project.
Upon completion, the dam will produce enough power for 450,000 B.C. homes each year, but its reservoir is expected to destroy more than 100 kilometres of river valley bottoms along the Peace River and its tributaries. The project received the green light from Premier John Horgan last week.
"There is a permit. They have conditions," Environment Minister George Heyman told National Observer in an interview on Wednesday. "I think the conditions contemplate that if potential damage to environmental aspects are found, they’ll be addressed and remediation measures will be taken.
"We’re not contemplating new requirements, we just want to make sure that whatever happens with this project going forward, it’s the best possible result given the fact that we’re essentially damning a river and flooding an area."
New government 'inherited a mess'
Heyman emphasized how difficult it was for the province's new NDP government to approve the project, which former premier Christy Clark famously vowed to push "past the point of no return," over intense opposition from Indigenous leadership, environmental groups, and local farmers and property owners.
The project has been rigorously opposed by the Treaty 8 Tribal Association, including the West Moberly and Prophet River First Nations, which have announced their intentions to sue for treaty violation.
"We inherited a mess and a lot of expenditure from the BC Liberal government," said Heyman. "With the decision to go forward, we will be monitoring the work of BC Hydro and contractors and ensuring that all of the conditions on their permits are followed rigorously."
Indeed, it was through gritted teeth that Horgan announced the government's decision on the project last week, raising the dam's budget from $8.8 billion to $10.7 billion. It was "with great sadness," he said, that he pushed the project forward, citing a hefty taxpayer bill as a consequence of cancellation that no one could afford.
Construction on the Site D Dam began in summer 2015 under former premier Clark, without an independent review from the BC Utilities Commission. During the spring 2017 provincial election campaign, Horgan promised that an NDP government would enlist the commission to weigh its pros and cons, before deciding whether to see it through.
He carried through on the promise to launch the review, after forming a minority government with the support of the BC Green Party.
The commission completed its review November this year, and found that while alternative forms of energy could meet the province's needs more cheaply than Site C, if the project were to be cancelled now, it would cost taxpayers nearly $2 billion in addition to the cost of finding new power sources.
The dam is scheduled for completion in 2024, but utilities commission expects it will not be finished on time.