Another bid to stop construction of the Site C dam in B.C.’s Peace River region has been rejected, making it the 15th court action to end in a favoured ruling for the controversial hydroelectric project.
On Wednesday, the West Moberly First Nations lost its bid for an injunction, with B.C. Supreme Court Justice Warren Milman ordering a new trial to determine whether the dam infringes on Aboriginal treaty rights, set for sometime in 2023. That’s when the project is expected to be almost done, but the reservoir would not yet filled.
The First Nation, as well as the Prophet River First Nation, had argued the roughly $10-billion project would cause irreparable harm to its territory and said it should be protected under Treaty 8, one of 11 treaties made between the federal government and First Nations.
Meanwhile, BC Hydro argued any injunction would create heavy budget overruns. It says a two-year injunction would cost an extra $660 million and a three-year stoppage would cost $1.1 billion.
Chiefs of both nations said this week they will do “whatever it takes” to protect their ancestors’ land, and will decide whether to appeal the judgment.
“The court may have chosen not to suspend work on the dam, but that doesn’t mean this project will ever be completed,” Prophet River First Nation Chief Kirk Tsakoza said. “As the 200 evacuees at Old Fort could tell you, the unstable north banks of the Peace River may have other plans.”
A slow-moving landslide in the community of Old Fort, south of Fort St. John on the banks of the Peace River, forced dozens of people out of their homes earlier this month. The slide tore up the town’s only road and knocked down power lines, prompting public protests. BC Hydro has since said the slide was not caused by the Site C dam construction.
BC Hydro CEO Chris O’Riley said crews will continue work to safely advance construction, adding the utlity has reached benefit agreements with most First Nations with whom staff have consulted.
Since 2010, there have been 15 court actions attempting to stop the project, including one by the Peace Valley Landowner Association and other Treaty 8 nations.
The utility commission says the dam will provide clean and renewable electricity and produce about 5,100 gigawatt hours of electricity each year — enough energy to power the equivalent of about 450,000 homes per year in B.C.
West Moberly First Nation Chief Roland Wilson said no ruling will transform the dam into being a good project.
“The question to ask is how many billions of dollars will be wasted, and how many human lives will be put at risk by carrying on with this boondoggle?”
With a file from The Canadian Press