BC Hydro president Jessica McDonald is dismissing a request from the NDP to delay some aspects of the construction of the Site C dam, saying evictions along the banks of the Peace River must proceed by month's end or the megaproject will be pushed a full year behind schedule and cost an additional $630-million.
But by then, the NDP, with the help of the Greens, will most assuredly be in government. They have signalled their intention to work together to topple the BC Liberal government as soon as possible. The Liberals announced Wednesday the legislature will return June 22 and a confidence vote – which Premier Christy Clark has acknowledged she will lose – will follow soon after.
On Tuesday, NDP leader John Horgan had requested that Hydro delay evictions of two families, and to not commit to additional contracts without penalty-free cancellation clauses, until an independent review of the $8.8-billion project can be completed.
But Ms. McDonald, who was appointed by the BC Liberal government to help steer the dam project past the point of no return, told reporters Wednesday that any delay now would cause a "domino effect" that would derail a critical point in the construction timeline – diverting the Peace River in September, 2019.
Hydro officials, at a briefing in Victoria, said there isn't enough flexibility in the construction schedule between now and then to accommodate the three-month review process that the NDP is proposing.
If the river diversion is not completed in the fall of 2019, the entire schedule would be pushed back a year, because that is the only time of year that it can be done, Ms. McDonald said.
"We are up against a hard milestone."
Hydro released figures showing an estimated $630-million in additional costs as a result of such a delay – a figure that Green Leader Andrew Weaver promptly dismissed.
Mr. Weaver, who attended the media briefing uninvited, later told reporters he is now more convinced than ever that the Crown corporation's financial projections for the Site C dam need to be independently reviewed.
"It's the single biggest investment in public infrastructure in B.C.'s history, and there has been no independent analysis of the numbers," Mr. Weaver said. "It's been turned into a political football in the dying death-throes of a government that is, frankly, irresponsible."
In the provincial election campaign, the Greens advocated for the project to be cancelled.
They have signed an agreement to support an NDP minority government that promises an accelerated review that will look at the costs of scrapping the project.
"I accept that there is a point of no return financially," Mr. Weaver said. "That point will be determined by an independent analysis of the costs of moving forward versus the costs of stopping."
Hydro says it has spent $1.75-billion on the project to date, and has signed additional contracts that can only be cancelled with penalties.
Mr. Horgan, speaking with reporters in Vancouver, said an NDP government would ask the independent regulator, the B.C. Utilities Commission, to issue a six-week interim report on the finances followed by final report three months later.
"We're in a difficult position. The BC Liberals went forward with a $9-billion project without any oversight, so here we are today in 2017 with a couple of years behind us and many dollars spent. We want to make sure that before we go any further, we're ensuring this is the best possible project for the people who have to pay for it," said Mr. Horgan, referring to taxpayers.
The NDP Leader also said he would have no problem meeting with Site C workers concerned about the future of the project. He was responding to a letter to him Wednesday from the Construction, Maintenance and Allied Workers of Canada, which has 140 workers on the hydro-electric project.
"Absolutely, I will meet with them," he said, adding his office will set up the meeting.
"Work will continue at Site C while this review is undertaken. I don't want anyone to be under any illusion that that's not the case."
The construction of 8.5 kilometres of highway and a bridge must be completed before the river diversion, Hydro officials explained, because the existing road and bridge could be flooded by the construction work. To do that, Hydro has expropriated land along the river bank. The planned re-routing of the highway and bridge runs through two farm homes, and would destroy important Indigenous sites, including an ancient Dunne-za gravesite and a sweat lodge.
Local First Nations have urged Hydro to use an alternate route that would avoid those sites, but Hydro officials said it is too late in the planning to adopt changes.
Ms. McDonald rejected the suggestion that construction on the highway and bridge re-alignment could start at points that would avoid, for now, those contentious sites until the uncertainty about the government is resolved. She said the residences are located where the footing of one end of the new bridge would be.
It would take direction from the Hydro board, or the provincial government, to change the schedule.
BC Hydro claims delaying the Site C project by one year would cost an additional $630-million. Here's how the Crown corporation reached that number:
- Ongoing project costs during delay period: $95-million
- Site and environmental maintenance: $10-million
- Main civil works contract: $120-million
- Storing turbines and generators: $25-million
- Fixed costs related to worker accommodation: $15-million
- Other: $60-million
- Impact of inflation after one year: $105-million
- Interest: $200-million
SOURCE: BC Hydro