Many assumed the $10.7-billion Site C dam was a done deal when Premier John Horgan announced in December that B.C. Hydro would complete the project.
That perception was reinforced less than two weeks later when the Crown utility chose its preferred proponent for the generation station and spillways civil-works contract.
Moreover, the International Union of Operating Engineers, which strongly supports the Site C dam, donated $123,520 to the NDP before the 2017 election.
It left little doubt in the minds of most media commentators that nothing could halt the project.
But today, the West Moberly and Prophet River First Nations said in a news release that they've managed to secure a "major work stoppage" in advance of presenting legal arguments in court for an interim injunction.
According to the two First Nations, B.C. Hydro initially declared on February 9 that it intended "to continue all previously scheduled work".
After the Indigenous groups' legal counsel warned that this would lead to an "interim, interim injunction" application, B.C. Hydro changed its position.
"On February 16th it sent logging contractors home that were in the process of cutting a stretch of old growth within three critical areas approximately 29 kilometers long by 80 meters wide (the Trappers Lake, Sucker Lake, and Peace Moberly Tract Critical Areas)," the news release said. "The clearcutting and road-building were part of a 75-kilometer transmission line required for the project."
The First Nations also declared there are "no known plans" for B.C. Hydro to do any work in nine other "critical areas", including clearing old growth from islands and on the banks of the Peace River.
The interim injunction application is expected to be held over 10 days in the summer, likely starting on July 23.
“We feel very good about the state of play,” West Moberly First Nations Chief Roland Willson said in the news release. “B.C. Hydro wouldn’t send their contractors home and shut down work for the next six months unless their back was against the wall. And if they are making these types of concessions before we even step foot inside the courtroom, we think that bodes well for our injunction this summer.”
The First Nations have alleged that the Peace River Valley is central to the Dunne-za way of life and is therefore protected by Treaty 8.
Moreover, they argue that the Site C dam infringes on Treaty 8 and that mercury contamination associated with the project threatens Indigenous fishing rights.