VICTORIA – Both the federal and provincial governments have issued environmental assessment certificates for BC Hydro's Site C dam, the proposed third hydroelectric project on the Peace River in northeastern B.C.
The approvals include dozens of legally binding conditions, including a $20 million farmland enhancement fund to offset river bottom land that would be flooded, and compensation for local aboriginal groups whose historic treaty rights to hunting, fishing and trapping would be affected.
Cost of the project, last estimated by BC Hydro at $7.9 billion, will factor into a final decision by the B.C. cabinet whether to go ahead with the dam. Energy Minister Bill Bennett has indicated he expects the final investment decision to be made by the end of 2014, and if it's approved, work would begin immediately.
Among the 77 B.C. conditions is an aboriginal business participation strategy to share the estimated 10,000 person-years of construction work the dam project would generate.
Seven aboriginal communities affected by the proposal have been offered cash and Crown land to compensate for land lost by construction of the dam. All are signatories to Treaty 8, which ensures their rights to hunt, trap and fish as they did before the treaty was signed in 1899. Officials say five of the seven are currently in negotiations.
Situated near Fort St. John and downstream of the W.A.C. Bennett and Peace Canyon dams, Site C's 1,050-metre-long earthfill dam would create a reservoir 83 km long and two to three times the current width of the river.
It requires two power lines built in the same corridor as the existing line, and six water turbine generators that would produce enough electricity to power about 450,000 homes.
BC Hydro estimates that because Site C would use water held back in the existing Williston Lake reservoir, it would generate 35 per cent of the energy as the Bennett dam with only five per cent of the reservoir area.