Artist's rendering shows current proposed design for Site C dam on the Peace River near Fort St. John.

NDP protests Site C farmland exemption

Energy Minister Bill Bennett says federal-provincial review of Peace River dam will examine agricultural impact

The B.C. government’s decision to exempt the Site C dam proposal from review by the Agricultural Land Commission is another step backwards for accountability, NDP energy critic John Horgan said Monday.

Energy Minister Bill Bennett notified BC Hydro’s board in a Dec. 11 letter that the 3,800 hectares of fertile land to be flooded for a third dam on the Peace River will not be subject to a second review.

Since the agricultural land reserve was established in the 1970s, the B.C. government has had the option of declaring farmland exemptions if they are deemed in the “provincial interest.”

Horgan said the B.C. Liberal government has a habit of suspending independent oversight of BC Hydro decisions, most recently on the B.C. Utilities Commission’s review of electricity rate increases over the next five years.

“We’ve already seen 28 per cent rate increases coming because of 10 years of mismanagement, and the Clark government is starting off on the wrong foot in my opinion by exempting Site C from the utilities commission, by exempting a rate review from the utilities commission, and now the ALC has also been pulled out,” Horgan said.

Bennett said there is no need to hold duplicate reviews of Site C, which would take a decade and more than $8 billion to construct.

“This is not the government of B.C. doing this panel process,” Bennett told CKNW radio Monday. “These are independent people who are chosen because of their independence and because of their experience. They will determine what the impact is on agriculture and agricultural land.”

The joint federal-provincial environmental assessment of Site C. began in 2011, with public hearings underway this month in the region.

The dam would flood an 83-km stretch of valley bottom between Hudson’s Hope to Fort St. John. It follows the completion of the W.A.C. Bennett dam in 1968 and the Peace Canyon dam in 1980.

BC Hydro estimates demand for electricity in the province will increase 40 per cent in the next 20 years, without the still-undefined demand from liquefied natural gas export development.