A colossal waste’: BC Hydro report hints at cost overruns at Site C dam

A revealing update from BC Hydro says the project’s budget — which has grown from $6.6 billion to $10.7 billion — is now ‘under pressure’ and ‘did not contemplate certain unforeseen financial impacts’

Ken Boon Peace Valley Site C dam

A farmer looks out over construction at the Site C dam. Several family farms will be flooded by the dam’s 128-kilometre reservoir. Photo: Jayce Hawkins / The Narwhal

he troubled Site C dam project is poised for more cost overruns and schedule delays despite repeated assurances from B.C.’s NDP government that the project will be delivered on time and within its revised budget of $10.7 billion.

Details are found in BC Hydro’s unusually frank quarterly report to the B.C. Utilities Commission, filed on Jan. 15, which reveals significant problems with the publicly funded dam amidst the typically positive project updates.

Some of the more serious issues include “significant cost pressures and/or budget increases” since the NDP government approved an additional $2 billion for the project two years ago and a September cost risk analysis showing that the revised Site C dam project budget is already “under pressure.”

Site C BCUC Report under pressure

An excerpt from BC Hydro’s latest quarterly report to the B.C. Utilities Commission noting the project’s budget is “under pressure.”

18-metre concrete chunk fell from tunnel lining

BC Hydro also acknowledged, for the first time, that a fast-approaching and already revised timeline for completing two critical river diversion tunnels is “at risk,” noting issues with the tunnel liner concrete that include falling pieces of concrete chunks as large as 18 metres by three metres.

If the river diversion tunnels are not finished next month as forecast, the Site C project’s long-promised completion date of 2024 could be delayed by one year, adding further to the project’s escalating cost.

“I’m not at all surprised by what’s happening,” former BC Hydro CEO Marc Eliesen told The Narwhal.

“Even given the limited information which is contained in this quarterly report … clearly we’re going to see a project that is upwards of $12 to $13 billion at the end of the day,” said Eliesen, who is also the former chair and CEO of Ontario Hydro, the former chair of Manitoba Hydro and the former chair and CEO of the Manitoba Energy Authority.

“This to me is just shocking and a colossal waste for the ratepayers of the province.”

Site C construction. Peace River. B.C.

Construction at the Site C dam on the Peace River in the summer of 2018. Photo: Garth Lenz / The Narwhal

The Site C dam was announced in 2010 as a $6.6 billion project. The cost was bumped up to $7.9 billion prior to the deliberations of a panel that examined the project for the federal and provincial governments and drew its conclusions based on that figure.

The project budget subsequently climbed to $8.8 billion when the former BC Liberal government approved the project in December 2014 — after changing the law to strip the watchdog B.C. Utilities Commission of its responsibility to determine if building the dam was in the public interest. It then jumped to $10.7 billion in December 2017.

The Narwhal first flagged the Site C dam’s rising costs in June 2016, when the project was in the preliminary stages of construction. In response to our article, which was based on BC Hydro’s own reports, BC Hydro issued a press release calling our story “inaccurate.”

That BC Hydro press release, claiming the Site C dam is “on budget and on schedule” at $8.8 billion, is still on its Site C dam website.

‘Unforeseen financial impacts’ disclosed in report

Eliesen and other energy experts have been sounding the alarm for years about what they say is the unacceptable and unnecessary cost of the Site C dam, which would flood 128 kilometres of the Peace River and its tributaries to produce 680 megawatts of power at average capacity — 1,100 megawatts of power if the project reaches peak capacity.

An independent review of the project’s economics in 2018 by the B.C. Utilities Commission found that 1,100 megawatts of power could be produced by a suite of less destructive renewable energy projects, including wind, for $8.8 billion or less.

Ignoring a warning from the utilities commission that Site C’s cost could exceed $12 billion, the newly elected NDP government moved forward with dam construction in December 2017 with a $2 billion increase in the project’s budget.

Premier John Horgan subsequently set up a “Site C Project Assurance Board” to ensure the cost would not exceed the newly inflated $10.7 billion price tag and the dam would be fully operational in 2024, as promised by successive governments.

This week’s quarterly report — covering a three-month period up to Sept. 30, 2019 — discloses BC Hydro has spent approximately 63 per cent of the project’s $858 million contingency allowance.

“BC Hydro expects to request a draw on the [$708 million treasury board] project reserve, as and when needed to make future contractual commitments,” the report further notes.

In the report, BC Hydro says the Site C dam’s revised budget of $10.7 billion “did not contemplate certain unforeseen financial impacts.”

Those include First Nations treaty infringement claims and an injunction application by West Moberly First Nations, according to the report.

The injunction application, heard in 2018, made an ultimately unsuccessful bid to protect 13 areas of spiritual and cultural significance until the nation’s treaty rights case could be heard.

West Moberly First Nations and Prophet River First Nation have each filed civil actions alleging that the Site C dam and two previous dams on the Peace River constitute an unjustifiable infringement of their treaty rights.

In a recent decision, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination called on Canada to suspend the Site C project — along with the Coastal GasLink and Trans Mountain pipeline projects — until it receives the “free, prior and informed” consent of Indigenous peoples, in keeping with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples that B.C. recently enshrined in law.

The Site C dam would flood Indigenous burial sites and traditional hunting and fishing grounds, poisoning bull trout and other food fish with methylmercury.

‘Maybe financially we’re still not at the point of no return’

Eliesen pointed out that treaty infringement settlements could cost more than $1 billion, noting that Horgan himself has acknowledged their potentially high cost.

“These are things that people knew about in advance and they didn’t want to take them into consideration in cost and schedule because they knew it would scare people away,” Eliesen said.

“So we have the very same people, whether it’s the people in government or the people in BC Hydro, who have been continuously wrong with regard to cost and schedule.”

BC Hydro also noted the Site C project is experiencing material cost pressures due to contractor delay and other unspecified claims, additional labour resource requirements, worker accommodation expansion and estimated site reclamation costs.

Eliesen said it “doesn’t take a space scientist” to figure out that highly competitive jobs on other major resource projects in B.C. — including the LNG Canada project and Trans Mountain pipeline expansion — will have an impact on the Site C project in terms of labour availability and cost.

“This was to be expected,” he said. “It’s going to impact the cost, there’s no question about that. It’s going to be significant. And that has never been included in the overall estimate and the overall cost.”

Ken Boon, president of the Peace Valley Landowner Association, which represents 70 local landowners impacted by the Site C dam, said it might still be cheaper to cancel the project than for construction to continue.

“Maybe financially we’re still not at the point of no return,” Boon said in an interview, referring to former B.C. premier Christy Clark’s pledge to ensure the project reached what Clark called “the point of no return.”

Ken and Arlene Boon Site C dam Yellow Stakes

Ken Boon stands with his wife, Arlene, in front of hundreds of yellow stakes on the couple’s third-generation family farm. The stakes each represent a $100 dollar donation to First Nations’ legal challenges of the Site C dam project. Photo: Jayce Hawkins / The Narwhal

“What we’re seeing in this quarterly report is what we’ve all feared and what we’ve predicted — that it’s a project just rife with problems. And we’re looking now at cost overruns,” Boon said.

“These megaprojects like dams just continue to skyrocket out of control cost-wise while the clean and green renewables continue to drop in price. This quarterly report just speaks to that happening with the Site C dam.”

Eliesen noted there is “not one word” in the quarterly report about the financial risks to the Site C dam’s construction and operations that are posed by fracking in the Peace Valley area — risks that “BC Hydro’s own safety engineers have attempted over the years to bring to the attention of senior management and the government unsuccessfully.”

The Site C dam will be completely dependent on the Peace Canyon dam 83 kilometres upstream which is built on weak, unstable rock and officials warn could fail in an earthquake triggered by a nearby natural gas industry fracking or disposal well operation.

Other issues cited in the report include safety incidents for workers and a major left bank excavation that is behind schedule due to contractor concerns about slope safety.

The banks of the Peace River Valley are notoriously unstable. A major landslide last year, very close to the dam site, renewed calls for an independent safety investigation of the project.

Old Fort landslide Site C

A landslide in late 2018 destroyed a portion of the Old Fort Road, a short distance from the Site C dam project. Photo: Garth Lenz / The Narwhal

The report also highlighted other troubling issues that could affect the project’s schedule and cost.

Less than one-half of the steel for penstocks had been fabricated by the end of September as planned, according to the report, which said BC Hydro is working with the generating station and spillways contractor to “recover” the schedule.

The report further noted “instances of resistance” from the contractor responsible for the majority of turbine generator components in providing BC Hydro’s local inspectors access to its São Paulo manufacturing facility for surveillance inspections. BC Hydro said it is addressing the situation through regular meetings with the contractor.

Boon said until he read the report he wasn’t aware of a left bank drainage adit — a horizontal passageway that can be used for drainage — that will cross above the diversion tunnel.

“That just sounds like a recipe for problems,” he said. “What it indicates to me is they’re having water or drainage issues on that north bank. We know the north bank has been an ongoing problem for them with stabilization and water.”

“Obviously if you can’t divert the river you can’t build a dam and they’re having some real problems there.”

Lack of transparency at Site C

Eliesen said the last time British Columbians received up to date and comprehensive information about project costs, schedule and areas of risk was in the fall of 2017 when the B.C. Utilities Commission reviewed the economics of the project.

“Now we only get on a quarterly basis, months after, the information that BC Hydro wants released,” he said.

“There’s no independent analysis. There’s no independent reporting, contrary to what Horgan promised in December [2017]. He said there was going to be an independent quality assessment outside of BC Hydro. That never took place.”

All findings of the Site C Project Assurance board have been kept secret by the B.C. government and BC Hydro.

Six BC Hydro directors sit on the assurance board, according to court documents. They include John Nunn, who was Site C project’s chief project engineer. Nunn worked for the engineering and consulting firm Klohn Crippen Berger, a Vancouver-based company that holds a current contract, along with SNC-Lavalin, for “design services” on the Site C project.

“So there’s no independent look at what BC Hydro is doing and to advise the ratepayers of what’s been happening,” Eliesen said.

“Even with these quarterly reports, it’s a very secretive project,” Boon said. “As before, the people are kept in the dark other than to read through these quarterly reports and try to glean what they can.”

Despite the red flags about cost pressures on the Site C dam budget, BC Hydro says in the report, in a carefully worded sentence, that it “continues to manage the project within the approved budget of $10.7 billion.”

In a prominently displayed table assessing the status of the project, BC Hydro assigns a “yellow” status to the categories of cost, schedule, overall project health, litigation and safety — denoting “moderate issues.” According to the table, a green dot indicates a category is on track to meet project targets.

Site C BCUC Report Risk

Coloured dots denote risk in BC Hydro’s recent report.

Green dots were assigned for seven out of 12 categories, including for Indigenous relations, the “quality of work” and project permits and authorizations, more than one-quarter of which are still outstanding.

“There are no red dots,” Eliesen noted. “There are yellow dots from their estimation. Maybe if someone independent did it there would be a lot of red dots of major risk.”

In another carefully worded statement, BC Hydro notes in the report that a new “optimized” schedule to complete the diversion tunnels will still achieve “the key schedule milestones associated with river diversion in fall 2020,” raising questions about whether or not that means the river diversion will go ahead as planned.

In response to questions from The Narwhal, the B.C. energy ministry said the Site C project “remains on schedule for achieving an in-service date of 2024 and BC Hydro continues to manage the project within the $10.7 billion budget.”

The ministry also said BC Hydro is on track for river diversion in 2020, noting the concrete tunnel lining process is, on average, about 50 per cent complete. It also said the lining is nearing completion in one tunnel, hinting that lining in the second tunnel is far from complete.

“The lined tunnels, and related intake and outlet structures at either end, are scheduled to be completed in early 2020 in advance of river diversion,” the ministry said.

The ministry also noted that BC Hydro’s quarterly reports on the Site C project “are reviewed and approved by the Project Assurance Board.”

The ministry did not answer a question about why the project assurance board’s findings are not public.

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip & Peter McCartney: Canada must stop violating Indigenous human rights for megaprojects

The RCMP are obliged to enforce a civil injunction obtained by Coastal GasLink pipeline against Freda Huson (right) and other Wet'suwet'en members.

The RCMP are obliged to enforce a civil injunction obtained by Coastal GasLink pipeline against Freda Huson (right) and other Wet’suwet’en members.

By Grand Chief Stewart Phillip and Peter McCartney

There’s no way around it—Indigenous peoples are the proper title and rights holders over their territories, and their human rights cannot be trampled just because a megaproject floats the dream of big money to investors.

The UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination recently called on Canada to immediately stop construction on three major industrial projects until affected Indigenous Nations have given their consent. The Coastal GasLink pipeline, Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, and the Site C dam have all been met with consistent opposition from many of the nations whose territories they would cross and infringe upon. Community members have been violently removed from their lands for asserting their title and rights and exercising their inherent right to control and develop their lands, territories and resources.

As we write this, the RCMP is preparing to descend upon Wet’suwet’en territory to clear the path of the Coastal GasLink pipeline, as the company recently won a court injunction that the RCMP is obliged to enforce. Meanwhile, land defenders who oppose the federally owned Trans Mountain pipeline have faced harassment, surveillance, intimidation, and violent arrest.

These events highlight the concerns of the UN for the rights and safety of Indigenous Peoples in Canada. Police violence and human rights violations are only likely to escalate unless political leaders step in. Their courage or cowardice will define whether reconciliation becomes yet another hollow promise to Indigenous Peoples or a chance to build this country upon principles of equality and respect—the way it should have been from the beginning.

We’ve visited the Tiny House Warriors, the Rocky Mountain Fort, and the Unist’ot’en healing lodge in the path of these megaprojects. Friends have told us how they’ve been turned away from local businesses, constantly harassed and surveilled by police, and even injured in violent arrests. It does not and should not have to be like this.

We can have an economy that reflects our values. There’s a right way to provide jobs and prosperity, but it requires patience, humility and prioritizing the relationships that we are trying to build. Indigenous Peoples have laws and governments that have been in place on these territories long before Canada’s. Respecting their right to make decisions about those lands means accepting our shared future in this place is more important than any one resource project.

For generations, Canada has proudly supported human rights on the international stage at the United Nations forums while consistently failing to apply the same moral compass here at home. If we are going to live up to our ideals rather than repeat the mistakes of the past, and if British Columbia is to advance its commitment to the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act, we must heed the call and stop Trans Mountain, Coastal GasLink and Site C. Only once we stop straining the fragile bonds between us can we move forward in partnership. SOURCE

Peace River Frack-Up Bombshell

Part 1 of a report on how fracking poses risks to BC Hydro’s Peace River dams

Read Part 2 of the report

The WAC Bennett dam impounds the world’s seventh-largest reservoir. In 2012 a BC Hydro employee speculated a fracking operation may have caused a sudden change in the reservoir’s water levels. Photo: Jayce Hawkins.

BC Hydro has known for well over a decade that its Peace Canyon dam is built on weak, unstable rock and that an earthquake triggered by a nearby natural gas industry fracking or disposal well operation could cause the dam to fail.

Yet for years, knowledge of the dam’s compromised foundation was not shared widely within the Crown corporation. It was even kept secret from members of a joint federal/provincial panel that reviewed the Site C dam, now under construction 70 kilometres downstream of Peace Canyon in the Montney Basin—one of the most active natural gas fracking zones in British Columbia.

The disturbing revelation is among many contained in hundreds of emails, letters, memos and meeting notes released by the publicly-owned hydro utility in response to a freedom-of-information (FOI) request by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, BC office.

The documents show that BC Hydro officials knew from the moment the Peace Canyon dam was built in the 1970s that it had “foundational problems,” and that if an earthquake damaged the structure’s vital drainage systems it could be a race to stabilize the dam before it failed.

The documents also show that BC Hydro’s concerns about threats to the dam were discussed “at the highest level” within the provincial government ten years ago, but that unidentified provincial Cabinet ministers at that time rejected taking any action.

The documents have been augmented with a raft of emails supplied by a former BC Hydro construction manager, who oversaw $350 million in retrofits at the Peace Canyon and WAC Bennett dams in 2007, and who is speaking out publicly for the first time about his concerns.

A compromised foundation

Built in the late 1970s, the Peace Canyon dam lies a short distance downriver from the massive, earth-filled WAC Bennett dam, which impounds Williston Lake—the seventh-largest hydro reservoir on earth by water volume. The FOI documents show that the dam was built on top of layers of sedimentary rock, including shale—a rock known to be difficult to work with when big engineering projects are involved.

“A number of weaker bedding planes were identified underneath the dam during construction. Some of these exist directly below the dam within the foundation, and shear tests on bedrock core samples indicated shear resistance that was significantly lower than originally anticipated during design,” reads one internal report on Peace Canyon prepared by BC Hydro in 2017. “The dam is marginally stable under full uplift considerations, which does not meet modern design practice.”

The discovery was a bombshell. Since the shale rock underlying the dam was more susceptible to shearing or breaking than previously thought, it was vital to prevent any industrial activities nearby that could possibly trigger earthquakes.

But that knowledge was not widely shared within BC Hydro itself, even when disturbing tremors started to be felt at the dam in 2007—more than 30 years after problems were first detected. MORE

RELATED:

Peace Canyon dam at risk of failure from fracking-induced earthquakes, documents reveal

‘What cost are human rights worth?’ UN calls for immediate RCMP withdrawal in Wet’suwet’en standoff

Experts say the world is watching to see if Canada heeds a call from the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination to immediately suspend work on the Coastal GasLink pipeline, the Trans Mountain pipeline and the Site C dam until ‘free, prior and informed consent’ is obtained from Indigenous peoples

Wet'suwet'en Coastal GasLink January 2019 Barricade

Police climb over a barricade to enforce the injunction filed by Coastal GasLink pipeline at the Gidimt’en checkpoint near Houston, British Columbia on Monday, January 7, 2019. The pipeline company was given a permit but the Office of the Wet’suwet’en, which has jurisdiction over the territory in question, has never given consent. Fourteen people were arrested. Photo: Amber Bracken

1990, Grand Chief Stewart Phillip was at a Lil’wat Nation blockade to stop clear-cut logging and the expropriation of Mount Currie reserve land when he got a taste of how far governments in Canada are willing to go to prevent Indigenous people from protecting their lands.

“The sniper team came in in two Suburbans and went up onto the hillside and one of the Lil’wat Mount Currey band members came riding across the creek on his horse, quite panicked and warning us that there was a sniper team being deployed in the trees,” Phillip, president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, told The Narwhal.

“We had witnessed the Suburbans coming in, but he actually saw the sniper team disembark and take up positions,” Phillip recalled. “I know that to be a standard tactic on the part of the RCMP.”

As tensions escalate in the stand-off between Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs and Coastal GasLink — with the company posting a 72-hour injunction notice allowing the RCMP to arrest anyone blocking access to its work site as early as Friday — Phillip said there’s “an urgency” for Canada to heed a call from the United Nations and immediately halt pipeline construction on Wet’suwet’en lands and territories.

“It’s a precarious situation,” Phillip said, pointing to a recent article in The Guardian disclosing the RCMP was prepared to shoot Indigenous land defenders in the dispute over construction of the 670-kilometre Coastal GasLink pipeline to ship fracked gas to LNG Canada’s export terminal in Kitimat.

LNG Canada project, Kitimat B.C. 2017

The site of the LNG Canada project in Kitimat B.C. in 2017. Photo: Garth Lenz / The Narwhal

UN says projects need ‘free, prior and informed’ consent

In a move Phillip called a “significant development,” the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination has issued a triple-barrelled decision calling on Canada to immediately suspend work on the Coastal GasLink pipeline, the Trans Mountain pipeline and the Site C dam until “free, prior and informed consent” is obtained from Indigenous peoples.

The committee urged Canada to immediately cease the forced eviction of Wet’suwet’en peoples who oppose the Coastal GasLink pipeline and Secwepemc peoples opposed to the Trans Mountain pipeline, to prohibit the use of lethal weapons —  notably by the RCMP — against Indigenous peoples and to guarantee no force will be used against them. It also urged the federal government to withdraw the RCMP, along with associated security and policing services, from traditional lands.

In a two-page decision statement, the committee said it is alarmed by the escalating threat of violence against Indigenous peoples in B.C. and disturbed by the “forced removal, disproportionate use of force, harassment and intimidation by law enforcement officials against Indigenous peoples who peacefully oppose large-scale development projects” on their traditional territories.

Coastal Gaslink Pipeline RCMP Gidimt'en arrest

Police make an arrest January 2019 while enforcing the injunction filed by Coastal GasLink at the Gidimt’en checkpoint near Houston, B.C. Photo: Amber Bracken

“It’s somewhat frustrating and embarrassing that the UN has to chide the government of Canada and the provincial government with respect to what the rule of law is in this country in regard to Indigenous land rights, Indigenous human rights,” Phillip said.

“I think it’s a reflection of the ongoing arrogance of the Trudeau government, that somehow the Trudeau government feels it’s above the law and can just simply flout the law.”

As word of the UN decision spread, Alberta Energy Minister Sonya Savage called the United Nations an “unelected, unaccountable” body that has no business criticizing Canada’s energy megaprojects.

The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, the country’s largest oil and gas lobby group, issued a press release saying the UN committee’s two-page decision statement “reflects an embarrassing ignorance of Canadian law.”

‘If we think back to the Holocaust, all of that was legal under German law’

But Alex Neve, secretary general of Amnesty International Canada, said the whole point of the 18-member committee is that it’s comprised of unelected human rights experts appointed by UN member states.

“We want them to be there as objective, non-partisan, non-political experts who are going to look very closely at the situations that are brought to their attention, such as these three serious human rights concerns from Canada, and make the right assessments and make the right decisions entirely free from political influence,” Neve said in an interview.

Indigenous rights scholars point out the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination — whose implementation is monitored by the committee — holds signatories, including Canada, accountable to international human rights law.

They also note that the United Nations, with its overarching focus on human rights, was created in the wake of the Holocaust and other atrocities to ensure increased global scrutiny of human rights in individual countries, and that Canada championed the convention and was one of the first nations to sign on.

” … the process that was followed in Canada is failing … “

University of Manitoba law professor Brenda Gunn said Canadian law should not be used to try to protect or excuse actions cited by the UN committee.

“If we think back to the Holocaust, all of that was legal under German law. What this system is designed to do is to have people outside the state judging standards against something other than domestic law, to ensure that domestic law isn’t violating rights,” said Gunn, a Metis lawyer who provided technical assistance to the UN Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous People with regards to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

“What this committee is saying is that the process that was followed in Canada is failing to uphold Canada’s international human rights [obligations]. You wouldn’t expect this person to need to know Canadian law. All they need to know is the facts of what happened and compare that to their expertise of what is required under international law.”

Potential for ‘deep stain on Canada’s global reputation’

UBC professor Sheryl Lightfoot, a Canada Research Chair in Global Indigenous Rights and Politics, said the UN committee is pointing out that Canada’s law, policy and practice for consultation with Indigenous communities do not meet global human rights standards.

Canada has reported to the UN committee “regularly, routinely and enthusiastically” since 1970, the year after the convention was entered into force, noted Lightfoot, a citizen of the Lake Superior Band of Ojibwe who is senior advisor to the UBC president on Indigenous affairs.

“The one area that Canada stumbles on is once the CERD [Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination] casts its eye on Indigenous peoples’ human rights,” Lightfoot said in an interview.

“Canada is normally held up as a role model standard on this particular issue of eliminating racial discrimination.

This is one of the few times, and the notable times, where Canada is on the receiving end of negative news.”

The UN committee decision comes as Canada vies for a coveted seat on the UN Security Council, a bid Gunn said will fall under increased global scrutiny if Canada fails to follow the committee’s recommendations.

“While we may not hear public chastising of Canada in any international forum, there will be many conversations happening in the various lounges at the UN, and elsewhere, where states that Canada was counting on for support will be saying ‘well, what about this recent decision … how do we support a seat on the security council when Canada’s record on human rights continues to be questioned?’ ”

Lightfoot said a lack of action could  “create a deep stain on Canada’s global reputation.”

The committee decision follows landmark legislation passed by the B.C. government in November to implement the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP). The federal government has also promised to pass legislation to harmonize Canadian laws with UNDRIP by the end of this year.

Roland Willson, chief of West Moberly First Nations, called the decision a “validation for us.”

West Moberly First Nations and Prophet River First Nation are awaiting trial dates to determine if the Site C dam unjustifiably infringes on their constitutionally protected treaty rights, as the nations claim in civil actions filed two years ago.

Among many other impacts, the Site C hydro project will destroy Indigenous burial sites and other places of spiritual and cultural importance — including traditional hunting and fishing grounds — and poison fish with methylmercury.

West Moberly Chief Roland Willson

West Moberly First Nation Chief Roland Willson has been a vocal opponent of the Site C dam. Photo: Jayce Hawkins / The Narwhal

Site C dam called ‘cultural genocide’

Willson said West Moberly and Prophet River First Nations met with Gay McDougall, a U.S. lawyer who is the vice-chair of the UN committee, last year in Vancouver

“It’s not mass genocide that’s happening here. It’s cultural genocide,” Willson told The Narwhal.

“Ms. McDougall said to us, ‘Genocide is genocide. They’re destroying your culture and your culture is who you are as a people. So they’re killing you as a people’ … Our discussion with her verified that we’re right.”

Willson called it a “crime” to destroy the last tract of Peace River Valley available to Indigenous people to engage in traditional practices when there are cheaper and less destructive ways to produce power.

 “…The thought of [U.S.] President [Donald] Trump threatening to destroy Iran’s cultural sites, everybody’s up in arms about that, saying that should be considered war crimes,” Willson said.

“Well here they’re making a decision to destroy what’s left of an intact ecosystem, a vital piece of our culture.”

Article 32 of UNDRIP says governments “shall consult and cooperate in good faith” with Indigenous peoples through their own representative institutions, in order to obtain their free and informed consent prior to the approval of “any project affecting their lands or territories and other resources” — particularly in connection with the development, utilization or exploitation of mineral, water or other resources.

Site C construction. Peace River. B.C.

Construction of the Site C dam on the banks of the Peace River. Photo: Garth Lenz / The Narwhal

In a 2019 letter to the UN committee, a copy of which was obtained by The Narwhal, the federal government said it approached the Site C project “in a manner that is consistent” with obtaining free, prior and informed consent, a claim Willson called “hogwash.”

Willson said the federal government only met once with West Moberly and Prophet River First Nations about the Site C dam, for about 20 minutes.

The meeting, with former Fisheries Minister Dominic LeBlanc, took place in Vancouver several months after the election of the Trudeau government in the fall of 2015, Willson said, describing the session as “our one avenue to talk about everything.”

Nations ‘conceded’ instead of consenting

“Conceding is far from consenting,” Willson said. “Every nation in Treaty 8 was opposed to Site C.”

But after the project — championed for decades by BC Hydro — received final B.C. government approval in December 2014, “some of the nations conceded to BC Hydro,” Willson said.

“Their decision was not free,” he said. “It wasn’t prior. It was after the fact.”

A letter Willson sent to the UN committee two months ago said many affected Indigenous peoples have not consented to construction of the Site C project, including Blueberry River First Nation, Prophet River First Nation and Fort Nelson First Nation.

“Not a single Indigenous group supported Site C before Canada had issued all major approvals, and some groups that signed an agreement on the project afterwards stated publicly that they had never consented,” Willson wrote.

Former B.C. premier Christy Clark infamously vowed she would push the Site C project past the point of no return, the letter noted.

“There was never any intent by Canada or British Columbia to consider alternatives offered by Indigenous peoples,” Willson told the committee.

The chief also questioned the notion that First Nations were given “informed” details about the Site C project.

“Bogus estimates about future energy demand were used during consultations by the Province of British Columbia and BC Hydro to manufacture a need for the dam and to disregard less impactful alternatives such as wind and solar,” he said.

“These estimates have now been debunked by the B.C. Utilities Commission, British Columbia’s own independent utilities regulator.”

‘What cost are human rights worth?’

Asked about the economic cost of suspending the three projects, Lightfoot said, “what cost are human rights worth?”

“That’s the question for Canada,” she said. “The CERD [Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination] is trying to bring to Canada’s attention that when dealing with human rights you have to consider all people’s human rights and consider them equally.”

Gunn said major resource projects like the Site C dam and the TransMountain and Coastal GasLink pipelines will continue to experience delays and court challenges until Canada does a better job of engaging and working with Indigenous peoples. The current situation doesn’t lead to greater certainty for anyone, she pointed out.

“It just leads to more divisions and more problems.”

Neve said the UN committee has made it clear on a number of occasions it is deeply concerned that industrial projects such as the Site C dam and Coastal GasLink pipeline are proceeding in ways that violate the rights of Indigenous people.

“It is unconscionable for Canada to just shrug our shoulders and ignore that,” Neve said. “It’s time to do what the UN is asking us to do.”

It’s not the first time the UN committee has called on Canada to suspend the Site C project, which would flood 128 kilometres of the Peace River and its tributaries in the heart of Treaty 8 traditional territory if the dam is completed in 2024 as scheduled.

In September 2017, the committee recommended that Canada immediately suspend all permits and approvals for the publicly funded $10.7 billion project, which will produce an average of 680 megawatts of electricity.

The committee also advised Canada to end “the substitution of costly legal challenges as post facto recourse in place of obtaining meaningful free, prior and informed consent of indigenous peoples.”

The UN committee issued a second rejoinder in December 2019 when it again cited a “lack of measures taken to ensure the right to consultation and free, prior and informed consent” for the Site C dam. It warned that construction without such consent would infringe on Indigenous peoples’ rights protected under the international convention.

The Narwhal reached out to Global Affairs Canada for a response to the UN committee’s decision. Global Affairs Canada — whose email signature touts Canada’s bid for a UN Security Council seat  — put us in touch with Heritage Canada.

Heritage Canada said it hoped to have a response for January 8, but no response was received by publication time.

Phillip said the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs will request a meeting with federal Indigenous and Northern Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett to discuss the decision.

“We’ll be speaking not only to the government of Canada but also to the provincial government and Premier [John] Horgan with regard to the CERD [Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination] report and its implications vis a vis Bill 41,” Phillip said.

He said the union doesn’t accept the notion that Bill 41, B.C.’s new UNDRIP legislation, will only apply to new resource projects.

“We don’t buy that. The law is the law.” SOURCE


Wet’suwet’en threatened with eviction from their territory

The situation is escalating in Wet’suwet’en unceded territory in northern British Columbia this week as they face eviction by the RCMP if they do not remove any obstacles that would prevent workers from getting to construction sites for a Coastal GasLink pipeline.

The Wet’suwet’en need you to act in solidarity with their defense of traditional territory in the face of development projects that have not received the free, prior and informed consent of their people.

ACT NOW in solidarity with Wet’suwet’en: 

1. Sign our partner RavenTrust’s letter to Coastal GasLink reminding the executives of the rights of Indigenous Peoples that are to be respected, and urging them to respect the eviction order from the Hereditary Chiefs.

2. Visit the Wet’suwet’en Supporter page and take action to support the land defense. There is plenty of information on how to visit the camp, fundraise, write letters to law-makers, and resources for education and solidarity work with your neighbours.

In December 2019, The UN Committee for the Elimination of Discrimination recognized that Canada did not obtain the consent needed to begin construction of the Coastal GasLink pipeline in Wet’suwet’en territory.

The Committee instructed Canada to immediately halt construction and suspend all permits and approvals for the project, and urged Canada to withdraw RCMP and security and policing forces from the traditional territories.

Nevertheless, on December 31, 2019 a BC Supreme Court judge extended an injunction against the Wet’suwet’en, saying construction of the natural gas pipeline has been harmed by their defense camps. The hereditary Chiefs reject the Court’s decision based on their inherent, constitutional and human rights to govern their traditional territory under their own governance and legal systems and have once again ordered Coastal GasLink off their lands.

Thank you for speaking out today in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en.

Image result for logo amnesty internationalIn solidarity,

Ana Nicole Collins
Indigenous Rights Advisor
Amnesty International Canada

 

 

UN says Canada’s plan to rescue Wood Buffalo National Park not enough

Massive northern park at risk of landing on ‘World Heritage in Danger’ list


Wood Buffalo, which straddles the Alberta-Northwest Territories boundary, is one of the world’s largest freshwater deltas. (Parks Canada)

The status of Canada’s largest park as a world heritage site remains wobbly after a United Nations body expressed grave doubts about a federal plan to rescue it.

“Considerably more effort will be needed to reverse the negative trends at a time when climate change combined with upstream industrial developments and resource extraction are intensifying,” says a draft decision on Wood Buffalo National Park from UNESCO, which manages the UN’s list of World Heritage Sites.

Further deterioration, it says, “could eventually lead to the inscription of the property on the list of World Heritage in Danger.”

Wood Buffalo, which straddles the Alberta-Northwest Territories boundary, is one of the world’s largest freshwater deltas and breeding grounds for millions of migratory birds from four continental flyways.

With almost 45,000 square kilometres of grasslands, wetlands and waterways, it is the world’s only breeding ground for endangered whooping cranes and home to the world’s largest herd of free-ranging wood buffalo. First Nations depend on the area.

But it has been deteriorating for decades. In 2014, the Mikisew Cree asked UNESCO to examine the park and see if it still merited designation as a World Heritage Site.

The UNESCO report prompted Ottawa to commission a 561-page study that concluded 15 out of 17 measures of ecological health were declining. The effects — everything from low water flows to curtailed Indigenous use — stem largely from changes to area rivers caused by climate change, dams in British Columbia and industry in Alberta.

Canada proposed solutions such as artificially induced spring floods and other water flows. Ottawa also promised more careful environmental reviews of nearby development and better consultation with local Indigenous people.

…But Canada failed to answer concerns about B.C. Hydro’s Site C dam, UNESCO says. It also points out that ongoing oilsands development upstream from the park is of “serious concern.” MORE

The secretive role of SNC-Lavalin in the Site C dam

SiteCAerial2.jpg
Site C dam costs likely over $10 billion, completion date in doubt. Photo by Bob Fedderly.

The embattled company is reaping millions in public money from no-bid contracts for British Columbia’s third hydro dam on the Peace River — a project that is already billions of dollars over budget

SNC-Lavalin has received approximately $120 million in direct award Site C dam contracts, obscuring the embattled engineering firm’s role in building the largest publicly funded infrastructure project in B.C.’s history.

For one contract, SNC-Lavalin provided BC Hydro with a “shadow estimate” — number-crunching to confirm BC Hydro’s figure — for its forecasted $8.335 billion price tag for the dam, The Narwhal found after reviewing Site C documents.

The estimate proved to be wildly wrong, missing the mark by $2 billion.

But that hasn’t stopped SNC-Lavalin — which has been banned from World Bank infrastructure contracts for 10 years following allegations of bribery schemes in Bangladesh — from reaping years of no-bid work on the Site C dam for engineering design services.

Direct award contracts allow BC Hydro and other public bodies to decide which companies or consultants get contracts, instead of going through a more transparent and competitive tender process.

On Wednesday, a Quebec judge ruled that SNC-Lavalin must stand trial on charges of fraud and corruption for allegedly paying $47.7 million in bribes to public officials in Libya between 2001 and 2011. The RCMP has also charged SNC-Lavalin, its construction division and a subsidiary with one charge each of fraud and corruption for allegedly swindling almost $130 million from various Libyan organizations.

SNC-Lavalin also grossly underestimated cost of Muskrat Falls dam

SNC-Lavalin also played a major role in the cost estimate for the hugely over-budget Muskrat Falls dam on the lower Churchill River in Labrador, now the subject of a two-year inquiry to determine why the project proceeded. MORE

RELATED:

Nine things B.C. can learn from the Muskrat Falls dam inquiry

Premier Horgan walking a political tightrope on pipeline issue

“It has become quite clear the B.C. Greens will never take down this government.”

John Horgan
B.C. Premier John Horgan Photo BRENT BRAATEN, PRINCE GEORGE CITIZEN

Absolutely no one should be surprised that Attorney General David Eby was quick to declare the B.C. government will appeal the decisive court ruling against it over who controls what can flow through an interprovincial pipeline.

But the lack of emotion attached to his pronouncement was telling, another indication perhaps of the B.C. NDP’s chief desire that this issue just goes away, even with that pending appeal.

The NDP continues to walk a political tightrope on the pipeline expansion issue as it tries to placate environmental anti-pipeline activists within the party while at the same time declaring support for the resource industry.

The party has long said it would use “every tool in the toolbox” to fight the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, but as I have noted here before, the toolbox turned out to be a very small one containing a rather weak and tepid “tool.”

That tool was this court case, considered a bit of a Hail Mary pass pretty much from the start. The government provided no legal evidence that a province could control what is a federally regulated entity, i.e. an inter-provincial pipeline.

Nevertheless, the NDP had to do something – anything – to make it look like it was trying to block the pipeline. Environment Minister George Heyman sheepishly admitted early on upon taking office that there was absolutely nothing “legally” the government could do to stop its construction.

Hence, the rather novel court argument about jurisdiction over something the government had to live with. As expected, the B.C. Court of Appeal made short work of it, giving the argument a 5-0 drubbing.

Nevertheless, the NDP has to exhaust its legal options no matter how dim the prospects of ultimate victory are. It may all be a waste of tax dollars, but it is political capital that the NDP is more concerned about.

And an appeal will allow B.C. Premier John Horgan to be able to say, “I did what I could” to stop the pipeline and that will be the end of things.

Some environmental groups will be upset, but they were upset with the decisions to finish the Site C dam and woo the LNG industry into this province and that opposition mattered little at the end of the day.

Some have mistakenly thought that launching the appeal was designed to keep the B.C. Green Party in check to ensure it continues keeping the NDP in power. That is a misread of the reality that has emerged about the relationship between the two parties (for all their criticism and complaining, it has become quite clear the B.C. Greens will never take down this government). MORE