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BC Hydro threatened with $400,000 environmental fine over Site C

Landowner "frustrated" crown corporation only got a warning over air quality on its construction site.

Preparatory construction work underway by Peace River Hydro Partners in May 2016.

Courtesy BC Hydro

Preparatory construction work underway by Peace River Hydro Partners in May 2016.

A Peace River farmer whose lands will be submerged by the Site C dam reservoir said he was “frustrated” federal inspectors let BC Hydro off with just a warning for not monitoring air pollution on its construction site.

It’s the second written warning issued to the Crown corporation over the $9-billion hydroelectric project since October, according to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency’s website.

“We get a little frustrated sometimes by how, when they’re caught not doing the letter of the law and their permits, they just get warnings,” Ken Boon, president of the Peace Valley Landowner Association, told Metro in a phone interview.

Boon, a local farmer and campground owner, said the CEAA’s May 26 warning suggests oversight over construction is too “weak” to prevent violations, citing previous warnings issued over erosion.

“The Environmental Assessment Office has pinched their toes a couple times,” he said. “I’m not sure what the normal protocol for enforcement is supposed to be, but if they’re just giving a warning it seems they have all kinds of opportunity to crawl out from underneath this thing.”

In its warning letter, the CEAA’s compliance and enforcement chief Michel Vitou alleged BC Hydro broke the law by not measuring four air pollutants on its site near Fort St. John.

“None of the air quality monitoring stations are currently collecting data of … total suspended particulates, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide and sulphur dioxide as required,” he wrote. As a result, he added, BC Hydro “has been unable to monitor air quality effects in order to inform the appropriate authorities.”

Vitou said the alleged violation is “punishable on summary conviction” and fine of $200,000 for a first-time offence, and $400,000 every day the violation continues. Instead, he issued a “written warning … in order for you to take corrective action,” and gave the Crown corporation until Friday to respond to the letter.

Site C Clean Energy Project spokesman David Conway said the letter is being reviewed and BC Hydro is “preparing a response” by deadline.

“Based on our review at this time, the referenced federal conditions do not explicitly require collection of the listed air quality parameters in the letter,” he said in a phone interview. The CEAA’s Nov. 25 decision approving the project required “measures to avoid or minimize exceedances of federal and provincial ambient air quality objectives” for the listed air pollutants.

“BC Hydro is committed to meeting all the conditions of our environmental certification,” Conway said, adding that air quality data from an existing network of monitoring stations is “provided in real-time directly” to B.C.’s environment ministry, and an additional station is being currently installed on the dam site.

The 1,100-megawatt dam would create 10,000 construction jobs, BC Hydro said on its website, and enough electricity to power 450,000 homes a year. It would flood 5,340 hectares of land on the Peace River.

The CEAA's written warning came as the project reached higher-than-ever support amongst the B.C. public, according to a new Abacus Data opinion poll commissioned by BC Hydro, released Wednesday.

The poll of 1,000 British Columbians found that Site C support had risen to 49 per cent, while 25 per cent opposed the project, with a three per cent error. The same number said they would support it under certain conditions, such as reducing environmental or First Nations impacts or hiring locally.

It also found that more than three-quarters of respondents have “seen, read or heard anything” about the proposed dam, up from 62 per cent in 2013.  

“Any major project in B.C. will encourage healthy public debate and scrutiny,” Conway said. “It’s no surprise to see some level of polarization as that debate evolves.”

Boon was less enthusiastic about the survey. “A poll like that is more wasted taxpayers’ money,” Boon said. “Are they looking for reassurance?”

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