Open letter calls for halting of Site C dam megaproject
By Jessica Berget, Assistant Editor
On September 28, an open letter was published to BC premier John Horgan calling for the halt of the Site C dam hydroelectric project pending a review from experts exploring issues and possible solutions. Now 18 “prominent citizens” such as former BC Hydro president Marc Eliesen, David Suzuki, as well as former CEO’s, economists, professors, conservationists, and First Nations chiefs are backing the letter.
The reasons cited for halting this project include economic and financial issues as well as the strains imposed on the province’s finances because of coronavirus. The letter argues that the building of the dam across the Peace River diverges the waterway, which could lead to a “costly and potentially catastrophic mistake.” It also claims the project is no where near being complete and could end up costing the province more money than planned. “The Site C project is years away from completion, is mired in problems that may be unfixable, and confronts new, potentially horrendous cost over-runs,” said the letter.
“As a person concerned about the environment, I want us to convert to an electrical economy and stop burning fossil fuels. In fact [in Canada], only about 20 percent of our power comes from hydro or electricity, 80 percent comes from fossil fuels. ”
David Waddington, an earth and environmental science department instructor at Douglas College, disagrees with the halting of the project. “As a person concerned about the environment, I want us to convert to an electrical economy and stop burning fossil fuels. In fact [in Canada], only about 20 percent of our power comes from hydro or electricity, 80 percent comes from fossil fuels. We’re already three quarters of a way through [the project]—it’s insane to stop. We need it,” he said.
Waddington goes on to say that while there are many concerns and ruffled feathers with these kinds of projects, they are necessary for Canada to become a greener country and to stop relying on fossil fuel energy. “I estimate that for Canada we need the equivalent of 400 projects the size of Site C to replace fossil fuels. For BC, somewhere around 40 […] We’re going to be doing electrical projects of many kinds over the next 50 years and stopping this one is crazy. I understand people’s concerns, and I have concerns, but stopping this is just not right,” he said.
“I estimate that for Canada we need the equivalent of 400 projects the size of Site C to replace fossil fuels.”
While Waddington does think the megaproject should continue as planned, he does address the environmental issues that come with building such a project but says that all sources of power come with risks. “You essentially change the ecology when you flood a valley. It goes from being a green forest ecology to a lake ecology. There’s no doubt that’s not something that is desirable. But after you’ve built the reservoir and the dam, it is a very good source of power and it is not producing carbon dioxide. From an environmental point of view, all sources of power have an environmental impact, dams no doubt have a big impact, but in this case, it’s a unique situation,” he said.
He also addresses the concerns of First Nations land and ownership but does not agree that these concerns are enough to justify stopping the building of the dam. “I’m partly Aboriginal myself; I’m not going to claim to represent the point of view of Aboriginal people in BC, but I’ll tell you that there is a wide spectrum of opinion within the community and many people want to work. They want a job, they want to drive a truck, they want electricity, they want the economy to work and most of all, they want Aboriginal people to be apart of that and have a good standard of living. It’s not going to happen without these projects,” said Waddington.
“I’m partly Aboriginal myself; I’m not going to claim to represent the point of view of Aboriginal people in BC, but I’ll tell you that there is a wide spectrum of opinion within the community and many people want to work. ”
The letter states that the dam project has cost an estimated $12 billion—double the original estimate. It also claims that some geotechnical issues with the dam could add to the rising cost of the project, calling it to be stopped now before more money is spent on it. The letter reads: “With your government and governments around the world dealing with the harsh economic realities imposed on society by the global COVID-19 pandemic, now is not the time to be digging an even deeper financial hole on a costly project that may, given proper independent scrutiny, be found to be so structurally unsound as to be too risky to complete.”
Waddington cites hydropower as a great match for BC because of its many river systems and constant rain. He also addresses the geotechnical concerns that are brought up in the letter. “There is a couple of other concerns, one of them is geotechnical concerns. What that means is the rock is fractured, when they clear away the rock to build the dam, the rock is fractured under there. I will say every single hydropower project has this problem. The Revelstoke dam was built when I was a student, and it had some huge geotechnical concerns that cost extra money, but they built the dam and they haven’t had a problem,” he said.
According to CBC, John Horgan has seen the letter and claims he also was not excited about the project, and that the previous Liberal government was responsible. “We were faced with a situation that was created by the BC Liberals and did our best to manage it in the public interest,” Horgan said.