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Group calls for independent audit of proposed Site C Dam

The area of the Peace River where the proposed Site C Hydro Development Dam would be built near Fort St. John on January 17, 2013.

Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail

A group including government officials, landowners and First Nations representatives has reaffirmed its call for the Site C project to be reviewed by the BC Utilities Commission, saying studies to date have not made it clear whether the project is needed or what it would cost to build.

Site C, which has a projected cost of $7.9-billion, is a proposed dam and 1,100-megawatt generating station on the Peace River in northeastern B.C. that has been talked about for decades and is now back on the front burner.

The group, including Hudson's Hope Mayor Gwen Johansson, two representatives from the Peace River Regional District as well as Peace River landowners and Chief Roland Willson of the West Moberly First Nation, outlined their position at a news briefing in Vancouver on Tuesday, following up on a recommendation they had previously announced in July.

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"I think it should be looked at by an independent body that will make an honest assessment of it – and say either this is a good deal for the people of B.C. or this is not a good deal, and be definite about it," Renee Ardill, a Peace River landowner, said after the briefing.

A provincial-federal joint review panel released its report in May. The panel noted the potential benefits of the project – high-capacity, long-lasting energy at a price that would benefit future generations – as well as potential costs, including changes in land use and potential impacts on aboriginal rights and title.

The B.C. and federal governments are reviewing the panel's report and have six months to make their decisions.

The current regulatory process has included extensive opportunities for public input and will include a role for the BC Utilities Commission, Site C spokesman Dave Conway said in an e-mail.

"This process has been under way for three years and has included an independent Joint review panel process, including public hearings in the region.

This process also considers the need for the project and alternatives to the project," Mr. Conway said.

The process was open to input by the public, aboriginal groups, stakeholders and communities, he added.

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"In addition, the [BC Utilities Commission] will have an important role to play in reviewing Site C in determining how Site C costs are recovered from rates," Mr. Conway said. "Expenditures on the project would be included in a future revenue requirement application and must be reviewed by the [BC Utilities Commission]."

In its report, the Joint Review Panel said it could not confirm the accuracy of project cost estimates because it did not have the information, time or resources to assess them – and recommended that if Site C goes ahead, it should be referred to the BC Utilities Commission for detailed examination.

"The panel itself said because it didn't have the information or the resources or the time, it couldn't look into the cost of the [project]," Ms. Johansson said. "I don't think we can have any confidence in the cost of Site C, that $7.9-billion figure – not based on the material that has been submitted publicly."

Ms. Johansson and others, including representatives from the Peace River Regional District, would like the project to be reviewed by the commission before such a decision is made, saying the cost of a review is minor compared with the cost of building a potentially unnecessary megaproject.

Mr. Conway said BC Hydro has a "robust, peer-reviewed cost estimate" for the project and that the utility has conducted "extensive diligence" in developing its cost estimate, including input from a project engineering team that includes outside engineering firms.

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About the Author
National correspondent

Based in Vancouver, Wendy Stueck has covered technology and business and now reports on British Columbia issues including natural resources, aboriginal issues and urban affairs. More

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