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Regulator Raises ‘Pointed Questions’ about Site C as Project Threatens Prime Farmland

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  • Nov 3, 2020

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A provincial regulator has filed a list of 75, often sharply-worded questions with BC Hydro, aiming to get to the bottom of the stability risks the utility is now reporting with its multi-billion-dollar Site C hydropower project.

The B.C. Utilities Commission (BCUC) posted the questions publicly in the second half of October, the Vancouver Sun reports. The challenge to a BC Hydro update issued July 31 happened to coincide with a Watershed Sentinel exposé pointing to the prime farmland that will be flooded due to Site C, just as concerns for food security gain prominence in the midst of a global pandemic.

“The most pointed questions deal with Hydro’s belated disclosure that Site C needs costly ‘enhancements’ to stabilize the foundations under the powerhouse, spillway, and earth fill dam itself,” writes veteran Sun columnist Vaughn Palmer. “Hydro claimed to have identified the geotechnical risk late last year, but there’s evidence the utility knew about the ‘weak foundation’ 18 months ago.” He adds that Hydro failed to “fully disclose the nature of the problem” at the construction site, the cost of making it right, or how it will affect the project budget and construction schedule.

“Not content with Hydro’s evasions, the commission pressed for information that should have been put on the public record before proceeding any further with the multi-billion-dollar project,” Palmer adds:

The column consists largely of verbatim snips of the back-and-forth between the Commission and BC Hydro. And it points to a second set of questions the BCUC kept confidential to protect the utility’s commercial interests—and, Palmer speculates, to mitigate some of the political risk and embarrassment around a deeply controversial megaproject.

“Sooner or later, the public and ratepayers will discover what Hydro and the New Democrats have been hiding all these months,” he writes.

On Watershed Sentinel, meanwhile, agrologist Wendy Holm and food security advocate Ana Simeon argue that it’s senseless to destroy farmland in a moment when “pandemic gardens are trending. Through March and April, seed suppliers across North America were so overwhelmed with orders that many had to temporarily close down their online platforms, or stop selling to home gardeners.”

Economic orthodoxy might tout the “efficiencies” of larger-scale food operations and scoff at the “naïve” attempts at local self-reliance, they add. “Yet the pandemic is showing us the frightening vulnerability of our food systems. Becoming more resilient—as communities, provinces, and as a nation—will require us to relearn some measure of self-sufficiency when it comes to food and other essential services.” And that means paying closer attention to the very small percentage of B.C. territory that is considered first class agricultural land, particularly given the “death by a thousand cuts” by both Liberal and NDP provincial governments that have eroded the Agricultural Land Reserve originally set aside by the Dave Barrett government in 1973.

“Over the years, urbanization and sprawl have been allowed to gobble up prime acreage in Richmond/Delta and on Vancouver Island,” they add. “But nowhere has the loss been so devastating as in the northern part of our province. The fracking boom has decimated food production in a region that was already by far the most food-insecure in the province—and the pandemic makes everything much worse. The uniquely productive Peace River Valley, ‘the valley of the southern North,’ is close to being sacrificed for the destructive and unnecessary Site C dam project. Yet it is not lost, and in the new normal of a global pandemic it is even more worth fighting for.”

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