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Arlene Boon, whose grandfather bought the family property along the Peace River outside of Fort St. John, and her husband Ken check out an Oat silo on their property on on January 17, 2013. The flooding and safety zones for the proposed Site C Hydro Development Dam near Fort St. John on the Peace River would gobble up their property, which they refuse to sell to BC Hydro.Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail

A $400-million trust should be set up to compensate the people of the Peace River for the environmental damage and social disruption that will be caused if the Site C dam project is approved, the Joint Review Panel has been told.

Arthur Hadland, a director with the Peace River Regional District, states in a submission that the Columbia Basin Trust – which was created in the southeast Kootenay region in 1995 for about $350-million – provides a model that should now be followed in the northeast sector of the province, where BC Hydro is proposing to build a third dam on the Peace.

"Students of history understand that the past predicts the future, [and BC Hydro's] commitment to ensuring health and prosperity for the Peace Region … is sadly lacking," Mr. Hadland told the panel, which is holding hearings in Fort St. John.

He said the proposed Peace Basin Trust would be "dedicated to the future of the Peace Valley … in recognition of the negative aspects … and the loss of economic opportunities caused by the two existing dams."

BC Hydro built the W.A.C. Bennett dam across the Peace River in 1968 and the Peace Canyon dam in 1980, flooding large areas.

In the 1960s, a string of dams were also built on the Columbia River, as part of a joint power generating project with the United States. In 1995, the province set up the Columbia Basin Trust to compensate for the long-term effects of those dams. Funding included $276-million to give the trust a partnership in some of the power projects, $45-million as an endowment and $30-million over 15 years for operating expenses.

The Columbia Basin Trust, which is run by directors from five regional districts and the Ktunaxa-Kinbasket Tribal Council, delivers social, economic and environmental programs throughout the region, last year spending more than $19-million on various projects.

In an agreement signed last year, BC Hydro promised to pay the Peace River Regional District $2.4-million annually in "legacy benefits" for 70 years once Site C is operational. But Mr. Hadland said more is needed, and he called for establishment of the Peace Basin Trust before an environmental assessment certificate is issued for Site C.

"As a director of Area C, I have real concerns that my constituents will be overcome by the demands and logistics of this project," he said, noting that not only will there be environmental damage, but social disruption will also be caused when a large work force floods into the region.

Mr. Hadland said the Peace area is already strained by rapid growth in the natural gas sector and he fears the "potentially overloading impact" of more development. "These cumulative effects have been suggested as becoming a five-year industrial tsunami imposed over the Peace Region," he states in his written submission.

Mr. Hadland said while a Columbia Basin Trust would go a long way toward mitigating the impact on the local population, the panel should also require BC Hydro to relocate a solid waste site that lies near the shoreline of the proposed Site C reservoir, and to fund a museum to keep alive memories of historical sites that will be flooded. Rocky Mountain Fort (1794) and Rocky Mountain Portage Fort (1805) are two sites that will be submerged.

Mr. Hadland also said a 500-person Site C construction camp that would be built near Old Fort, outside Fort St. John, should be moved to the south side of the Peace River so as not to overwhelm the small, rural community. And he urged the panel to have BC Hydro pay the extra costs the Site C project will bring to the region in terms of increased demands for policing, hospital and educational services.

The panel will conclude hearings on Jan. 23.