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BC Hydro Manager, Community Relations Dave Conway, shows the various maps showing the flooding zones at the Community Consultation Office in Fort St. John on January 16, 2013 Site C Hydro Development Dam near Fort St. John on the Peace River.

Deborah Baic/The Globe and Mail

The head of the Site C dam project, B.C.'s costliest public infrastructure venture, is stepping down just months before construction is slated to begin.

Susan Yurkovich has stickhandled the project through eight years of planning and regulatory review, but will hand off the building phase, according to an internal company announcement posted Wednesday by BC Hydro president Jessica McDonald.

Ms. McDonald said in an interview that this is the best time to pass the torch.

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"It's been a tough decision, it's taken a bit of time to arrive at a final decision, but this is a logical time to transition," she said. "It's taken eight long years to get the project over the line and now there are eight years of construction ahead."

Adrian Dix, the NDP energy critic, said Ms. Yurkovich is leaving at a troubled time. "It's obviously a blow to the project and a blow to the government's credibility. Nonetheless, I wish Ms. Yurkovich well."

The Site C project is currently facing a series of court challenges from local communities because it would replace a stretch of the Peace River Valley with an 83-kilometre-long reservoir, flooding farmland and First Nations hunting grounds, as well as paleontological, archeological and historical sites.

In addition, provincial trade unions who support the project are upset that BC Hydro intends to use an open-shop labour model for the $8.8-billion project.

Ms. Yurkovich will be replaced in June by Diane McSherry, who was described by Ms. McDonald as having more than 30 years of experience in the public and private sector with a significant background in project delivery. She has served as Hydro's director for two major upgrades, at the John Hart Generating Station and the Ruskin Dam.

Ms. McDonald said Ms. McSherry brings more experience with construction management to the job. "I don't see it as different leadership, just a different set of skills."

Energy Minister Bill Bennett said he was not surprised by her decision, saying Ms. Yurkovich wants to spend more time with her family and she will not receive severance.

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"Susan is leaving because she has brought the project to the place she wanted to bring it to before she retired from BC Hydro. She told me two years ago … she never intended to build the project. She has done an absolutely fabulous job for the last eight years to build the budget, there is tremendous due diligence, she's assembled a wonderful team."

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