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Treaty 8 court challenge vs Site C dam begins this Thursday

Treaty 8 First Nations will be in court this Thursday (April 23) for a preliminary hearing on their challenge against the Site C dam and the cumulative impacts of industrial development on their territories.

Site C is a proposed 60-metre high, 1,050-metre-long earth-filled dam and hydroelectric generation station that would be located on the Peace River between the communities of Hudson’s Hope and Taylor in northeastern British Columbia. It would create an 83-kilometre-long reservoir and flood about 5,550 hectares of agricultural land southwest of Fort St. John. It would submerge 78 First Nations heritage sites, including burial grounds and places of cultural and spiritual significance. Construction on Site C could begin this summer (if not stopped by a court injunction) and be completed by 2024.

Chief Roland Willson of the West Moberly First Nation has stated, “We have rights under our Treaty. They’re rights that cannot be infringed simply because a provincial utility wants more power. The recent Tsilhqot’in decision by the Supreme Court of Canada only bolsters governments’ obligation to accommodate our Aboriginal rights and title. This dam just doesn’t make sense: legally, environmentally, or economically. It needs to be stopped immediately.” And Fort Nelson First Nation Chief Liz Logan has said that Site C would “submerge what little is left of the Peace River Valley” given it would be the third dam on the river.

After the British Columbia government approved the dam in December 2014, Council of Canadians chairperson Maude Barlow stated, “We are deeply disappointed by the B.C. government’s short-sighted decision. We stand in solidarity with Treaty 8 First Nations whose treaty rights will be violated with this project. But this affects everyone in the region – farmers, residents, and scientists alike.”

Site C is an environmental disaster in the making.

A spokesperson for BC Hydro admits the power from the dam will be used for the major growth expected in the liquefied natural gas, mining and forestry sectors in the province. Much of the power could go to environmentally destructive projects like fracking in northeastern British Columbia, which in turn is used to fuel the extraction of bitumen from the tar sands. It has been estimated that Site C alone would emit 150,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions a year, the equivalent of adding 27,000 cars on the road. The fracking and LNG terminals it would help power could release about 28 million tonnes of emissions a year.

The Peace Valley Landowner Association (PVLA) is also challenging Site C in court. They contend that, “The only independent review of the Project to date, by the federal/provincial Joint Review Panel, concluded that fundamental questions of cost, need and alternatives to the Project are not settled, and require further independent and public review by the BC Utilities Commission, before the Project is built.”

Their media release notes, “The PVLA case will be heard by the BC Supreme Court starting April 20, 2015, and by the Federal Court of Canada during the week of July 20, 2015. First Nations’ legal challenges to the approvals will be heard consecutively with the PVLA cases. All cases will be heard in Vancouver.”

The Council of Canadians has been opposing the Site C dam since March 2010, including our Williams Lake chapter participating in the Paddle for the Peace. We have argued that the conditions for the construction of any dam should include: transparency of process; exploration of more environmentally sound alternatives; environmental, social and economic impact assessments; accountability to local people who have the right of veto; full financial compensation to displaced persons; ecosystem protection; protection of local food supplies; guarantee of local health protection; and the inclusion of environmental and social costs in any economic forecasts.

Further reading
Maude Barlow’s 9-point critique of major dams (November 2013 blog)