By Galen Armstrong
November 1, 2018
Last week, the Supreme Court of BC handed down a big disappointment. The court did not grant a requested injunction to West Moberly and Prophet River First Nations, which would have stopped the destructive and expensive work on the Site C dam in northeastern BC until the Nations’ treaty rights case could be heard.
The judge hearing the injunction case did offer one slight silver lining, saying the full Treaty 8 infringement case must be completed before the Peace Valley is flooded. Still, all other destructive activities – land clearing, material relocation, excavation, road-building, and other work digging us all further into a $10.7+ billion dollar hole – can continue. Valley flooding is scheduled to begin in 2023, and the judge believes the full treaty trial can be completed by then.
BC and Canada have made a lot of big mistakes. And this is one it’s not too late to correct. Here are five reasons the Site C dam should still be stopped:
- Treaty rights cannot and should not be ignored. It’s shameful that BC’s government, despite having promised to uphold the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), is determined to forge ahead with this project. The Site C dam would flood more than one hundred kilometres of the Peace River and its tributaries, in a place where 85% of the territory is within 500 metres of industrial disturbance. Land and water available for First Nations to practice their traditional way of life is ever diminishing, and this is in direct conflict with treaty rights.
- It still makes more financial sense to stop the dam, than to continue it. We’re in year four of a ten-year project, and there are billions on the table that could still be saved. Once upon a time, this dam was expected to cost $6.6 billion. The official price tag is now $10.7 billion. Expect it to soar higher. And this does not include, of course, losses of farmland, ecosystem services, edible fish, or sacred cultural and historical areas. Some families have already been forced to leave. Others, including the Beam family and farmers Ken and Arlene Boon await their eviction notices. Our hearts are with them. And then there’s the next legal challenge. If West Moberly and Prophet River First Nations win their civil treaty rights case, BC Hydro will have nothing to show for the billions of ratepayer dollars they’ve spent.
- Dam safety concerns have not been addressed – and are not going away. A major landslide – the Old Fort Slide – started a month ago, forcing the evacuation of an entire community – and it’s still moving. It’s only a kilometre from Site C but BC Hydro says there is no evidence that the slide is related to the megaproject. There have been calls for an independent safety review, and they have been ignored. This landslide should make us all think twice about the wisdom of building a dam on shale – and BC should conduct an independent safety review.
- While climate chaos stares us down, our governments are pushing LNG. The BC government is still denying a Site C-LNG connection. But the implication that Site C power will be used for LNG has been there all along, and has resurfaced with the approval of LNG Canada. Site C is being paid for by BC Hydro ratepayers, and oil and gas corporations like LNG Canada have been offered big electricity discounts to support fracking in northeastern BC for LNG export. Fracking and producing LNG will make our provincial climate targets impossible to meet. On top of this, a new study shows that dams and their reservoirs produce 25% more methane – a potent greenhouse gas – than previously thought.
- Concerns about downstream impacts have not been addressed. The Peace River flows into northeastern Alberta, into the Peace-Athabasca Delta in Wood Buffalo National Park. People living in and around the delta saw big impacts when the Bennett Dam was built, and we expect to see further impacts with Site C. This area is one of of the world’s largest inland freshwater deltas and a global treasure. UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee called on the Government of Canada to address impacts to the delta, and their response is still forthcoming – all while dam building continues. Read more about Treaty 8 Nations of the area and threats to the Peace-Athabasca Delta.
We haven’t given up the fight
We are continuing to stand with Treaty 8 First Nations against the Site C dam. I attended and tweeted from two days of the injunction hearing and spoke at a rally outside the courts. Earlier this year, we participated in a 7-stop tour organized with Ken and Arlene Boon, organizing events on Salt Spring Island and helping out in Sooke. Over $13,000 was raised across the tour to support West Moberly & Prophet River First Nations legal challenges, as well as the Peace Valley Landowner Association. Sierra Club BC’s Quadra Island Local Group raised $3,500 in two hours at their coffee house with musician Luke Wallace as part of the tour.
We’re keeping Site C’s impacts in the national and international spotlight. After we worked with the Mikisew Cree First Nation to initiate a UNESCO mission to Wood Buffalo National Park and the Peace-Athabasca Delta within it, Canada refused to assess Site C’s impacts on the delta. So I took a trip to Wood Buffalo with photographer Louis Bockner to draw attention to this huge, internationally significant delta. Reporter Judith Lavoie joined us to report on the story. Several short videos and a collection of stunning photographs highlighting threats to the delta were released in a series by The Narwhal in June. Canada was given until December 1, 2018 to come up with an action plan to properly protect Wood Buffalo National Park, but now the deadline has been pushed to February 1, 2019. We’ll be holding the federal government’s feet to the fire on its responsibility to protect this treasured landscape.
We’re continuing to call out the BC government’s support of LNG development. We believe Site C power is integral to planned LNG industry development, and this means taxpayers and ratepayers will be on the hook for enormous public subsidies to fracking and LNG companies. We’ve sent a letter calling on the BC government to cancel public subsidies to the fossil fuel industry and invest in alternative renewable energy projects.
We are working for bigger changes to make sure projects like Site C never get this far again. The BC government’s decision to proceed with Site C underscored the need for electoral reform. It is highly unlikely projects such as Site C would have been approved under proportional representation. Voters who want to see politics done differently, including a reduction of the influence of powerful insiders, need to come together to vote in favour of proportional representation this fall.
I’m leading a team of volunteers making hundreds of phone calls to Sierra Club BC supporters to encourage people to vote for Pro Rep. Find out more about the referendum and how you can get involved with this campaign here.
Thank you for standing with us.
Feature image by Louis Bockner.