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British Columbia Clark challenges Horgan on B.C.’s Site C dam, warns delay could cost $600-million

Construction at the Site C dam project.

B.C. Premier Christy Clark, facing defeat of her Liberal government in the legislature, has written to the NDP and Greens to say their proposed delay in the construction of the multibillion-dollar Site C hydroelectric dam in northeastern British Columbia could cost taxpayers $600-million.

Ms. Clark sent letters on Tuesday to NDP Leader John Horgan and Green Party Leader Andrew Weaver warning of dire consequences if construction is delayed for even a short time. She said work on the massive earth-fill dam on the Peace River will proceed past the point of being stopped before a new review proposed by the NDP can be finished.

She gave both parties three days, until June 10, to decide whether they will proceed with their planned six-week review of the project by the B.C. Utilities Commission (BCUC).

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"As you know, with a project of this size and scale, keeping to a tight schedule is critical to delivering a completed project on time and on budget," Ms. Clark wrote.

"As such, I wish to inform you that the requests contained in your letter are not without consequences to the construction schedule and ultimately have financial ramifications to taxpayers."

Mr. Horgan, who has reached an agreement with the Green Party to take down Ms. Clark's government in a confidence vote, recently wrote to the chief executive of BC Hydro demanding that the Crown corporation delay evictions of two homes near the dam site, to postpone other decisions and to decline to sign another major contract "until a new government has gained the confidence of the legislature to govern and decide future policy regarding the Site C project."

Critics have long said the BCUC should have had a chance to assess the project – a possibility the Liberals ruled out.

Both the NDP and the Greens have expressed reservations about Site C. The NDP wants to refer the project to the utilities commission before making a decision on its future. The Greens would like to scrap the project, which will lead to the flooding of about 5,500 hectares of land in the Peace Region, affecting property owners.

Ms. Clark, who has largely kept a low profile since the election, said the relocation of two homes is necessary as part of road and bridge construction that will allow river diversion in September, 2019. Missing that target could lead to a one-year delay in the project at a cost of $600-million.

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She said a decision to proceed must be made no later than June 15 if the project is to remain on schedule.

In a responding letter to Ms. Clark Tuesday, Mr. Horgan said the Liberal leader had made "unsupported claims" about additional costs associated with asking BC Hydro not to sign major contracts until a new government takes office.

He accused Ms. Clark of "mismanagement" of the project, citing an 87-per-cent increase in hydro rates since the BC Liberals were elected in 2001.

"If you are truly concerned with this timeline, there is a simple solution: Recall the legislature immediately and face a confidence vote so British Columbians can get the new government they voted for," Mr. Horgan wrote.

In his own letter, Mr. Weaver accused Ms. Clark of playing politics with the "the costliest public-works project in B.C. history," which he said has not been properly assessed.

"Your government is turning a significant capital project that potentially poses massive economic risks to British Columbians into a political debate rather than one informed by evidence and supported by independent analysis," Mr. Weaver wrote.

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Mr. Weaver wrote that he required access to signed contracts, the project schedule, alternative project timelines and briefing notes on the status of existing delays before being able to offer informed comment on Ms. Clark's assertions.

In her letter to Mr. Weaver, Ms. Clark said she wanted to inform the Green Leader of the consequences of Mr. Horgan's proposal, "which I assume that you are in support of."

A joint agreement on governing signed by the NDP and the Greens commits to referring Site C to the utilities commission on "the question of economic viability and consequences to British Columbians in the context of the current supply and demand conditions prevailing in the B.C. market."

Questions have been raised about whether British Columbia needs the power Site C will generate.

In 2014, a federal-provincial joint review panel concluded the province will need more power, and Site C appears a solution that balances the most economic option with the smallest output of greenhouse gas emissions. However, the panel did not measure the true cost of the project or whether B.C. will need the power it will produce.

That same year, then-energy minister Bill Bennett was dismissive of the idea of sending Site C to review by the B.C. Utilities Commission. During question period, he said that the commission lacked the capacity to review a "large project" such as Site C.

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He said the project had been subject to 35 years of "poking and prodding and analyzing and looking at it" and much work had also been done by BC Hydro in which he said he had great confidence. "The standards that have been used to monitor and assess costs are to the highest international standards in the world," he told the legislature.

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