Environmental groups slam funding cap for Site C dam assessment

A prominent B.C. environmental leader is slamming the Conservative government for achieving “a new low” by capping funding for interveners in the Site C dam’s joint environmental assessment process.

“While $19,000 [per organization] may look like a fair amount of money, when you’re talking about having to hire technical experts, lawyers, and researchers, it does not go very far, especially when stacked up against the kind of resources B.C. Hydro has at its disposal,” George Heyman, executive director of Sierra Club B.C., told the Straight by phone. “So it’s an extremely tipped playing field.”

The provincial and federal environmental-assessment offices announced on September 30 that a harmonized environmental assessment process, including a joint review panel, will be undertaken for the Site C project. The proposed dam would be the third on the Peace River, alongside the W. A. C. Bennett and Peace Canyon dams.

Originally $140,000 was set aside by the joint panel for individuals and groups wishing to intervene. However, Andrea Morison, coordinator for the Peace Valley Environment Association, claimed that she was made aware by the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency via email that a $19,000 maximum would be imposed on each group. On November 17, the PVEA, Sierra Club, Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative, and Wilderness Committee issued a joint news release slamming the move.

“It [the cap] will certainly hamstring the PVEA; it will certainly hamstring the Treaty 8 First Nations that are opposed,” Heyman told the Straight. “But the trend is clear in all environmental assessments. The intention really is to slap down effective community opposition or representation of community and environmental interests. While Site C is a clear example, there are others.”

B.C. Hydro spokesperson David Conway told the Straight it would be “inappropriate” for the utility to comment on the environmental assessment process.

“It’s the regulator’s process,” Conway said by phone from Dawson Creek. “It’s the regulator that provides the funding.”