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First Nation chief says Site C approval a ‘spit in the face’

Arlene Boon and her husband, Ken, walk along their property, which the Site C dam would flood, in January, 2013.

Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail

Despite the B.C. government's announcement that the $8.8-billion Site C dam is going ahead, First Nations and land owners in the Peace River Valley say the battle against it is still on and will spark opposition to other resource projects.

"It's far from being a done deal. This fight is just getting started," Chief Roland Willson of the West Moberly First Nation said Wednesday.

"We were shocked," he said of the band's reaction to Premier Christy Clark's announcement on Site C, Tuesday. "It was basically a spit in the face."

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He said the West Moberly First Nation will now do everything possible to hold up other resource developments in the region, especially liquefied natural gas, which the province is vigorously pursuing.

"We're not going to be walking happily down the trail of consultation with proponents now," Mr. Willson said. "We're going to be reviewing all the LNG, all the pipelines, all the forestry, everything that's going on and pushing back as much as we can. We are going to cause as much problems as we can on this."

The West Moberly First Nation is also going to court to stop Site C.

"We've launched judicial reviews in both the federal Supreme Court and the provincial court. We are looking to challenge any permits coming forward on this," Mr. Willson said.

The West Moberly band is being joined in court by the Doig River First Nation, Prophet River First Nation and the McLeod Lake Indian Band.

The legal challenges will raise rights established under Treaty 8, a document signed in 1899 that covers 840,000 square kilometres in northwest Canada, including the Peace River region in northeast B.C. Treaty 8 guarantees aboriginal people the right to be able to continue their traditional practices. But the Site C project will flood 5,000 hectares of land, including traditional hunting and fishing sites, burial grounds and places where medicinal plants are gathered.

Ken Boon, president of the Peace Valley Landowner Association, said ranchers, farmers and others who own private land that would be flooded or eroded by the project are also going to court.

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"We have a court date of April 20th in B.C. Supreme Court in challenging the issuing of the [provincial environmental] certificate on Site C. So we're not giving up," he said.

The PVLA is also going to Federal Court in an attempt to quash Ottawa's decision to approve the dam, arguing the environmental approval process was flawed.

BC Hydro has said it expects to start construction early in 2015, but Mr. Boon said groundwork on the project shouldn't begin until the courts have ruled.

"We are expecting the government not to start construction until these legal challenges are sorted out," Mr. Boon said.

BC Hydro officials weren't able to respond immediately to questions on whether the construction will start as planned, or be delayed until after the court cases have been resolved.

Mr. Boon said the government's decision to pursue Site C was "very disappointing" given that alternative energy developments, including geothermal, wind power and smaller independent power projects, could have met the province's needs with less environmental impact.

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"There's no vision whatsoever in this government. Their answer to meeting future energy demands is something that's not happening much any more – building a dam," he said. "It is hard for us to understand why this is the route they are going."

Green Party MLA Andrew Weaver also expressed disappointment in the government's failure to consider alternatives.

"I am gravely concerned," Mr. Weaver said.

"The rest of the world is taking advantage of the decreasing cost of alternatives such as geothermal, wind and solar technology, while we are effectively subsidizing the construction of another dam."

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About the Author
National correspondent

Mark Hume is a National Correspondent for The Globe and Mail, based in Vancouver, writing news and feature stories on a daily basis about his home province of British Columbia. His weekly column, which often challenges the orthodoxy on environmental issues, appears every Monday. More

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