Site C dam evictees hold their breath, still in political limbo
Despite B.C. NDP promises, floodplain residents still don’t know their family homes' fate.
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If British Columbia’s 10-week ordeal after the May 9 election was a lesson in living with uncertainty, try to imagine your own family’s home being at stake in the ballot box.
Arlene and Ken Boon live in the floodway of the Site C hydroelectric dam in B.C.’s Peace River Valley, in an historic house inherited from Arlene’s grandfather. They’re one of a handful of families whose lands were expropriated last year for the dam’s construction — and then rented back to them.
Their lease expired last Sunday.
“Well, we’re still in the house,” Ken Boon told Metro in a phone interview Thursday. “We were kind of hoping to get an official extension of our residential lease, an indefinite extension.”
Even with the NDP's pledge to send the $9-billion dam to the B.C. Utilities Commission — the agency that reviews energy infrastructure and fees, from which Site C was exempted — the Boons have still heard nothing about their fate.
“Everything’s been in a weird stage of flux,” Boon said. "Obviously, BC Hydro’s not knocking on our door trying to kick us out of here yet."
Last week, he and other families involved in the Peace Valley Landowners Association sent letters to Premier John Horgan and the newly appointed NDP Cabinet asking them to clarify their plans.
“We wanted to remind them that our residential lease was going to run out on Sunday,” Boon said, “but we didn’t get a response.
“With the wildfires and other issues, I understand that this isn’t a top priority. Plus they were busy firing and hiring new people.”
Among those bureaucrats Horgan were BC Hydro’s president and CEO, Jessica McDonald — once a B.C. Liberal deputy minister — and BC Hydro’s board chair, Brad Bennett, a B.C. Liberal backroom strategist.
Site C supporters defended the 1,100-megawatt dam, warning that roughly 2,500 jobs are at stake if the NDP stalls or quashes it.
“Those jobs are now at risk as a result of the NDP-Greens, who seem to be grasping for any excuse to kill Site C,” said Independent Contractors and Businesses Association president Chris Gardner in a July 13 statement, “a clean energy project that will provide hydroelectricity for B.C. for the next hundred years and more.”
Michelle Mungall, energy, mines and petroleum minister couldn't be reached for an interview. But her July 18 mandate letter asked her to "immediately refer the Site C dam construction project to the (BCUC) on the question of economic viability and consequences to British Columbians.”
But the B.C. Liberals argued that after two years of construction, reversing course this far into work would be financially reckless. However, a University of B.C. Water Governance program report in April crunched BC Hydro’s own numbers and argued suspending or scrapping the project even this late in the game would still save B.C. up to $1.65 billion.
“The problem all along, at the root of it, has been the political drive to get Site C past the point of no return, despite all calls to not do that by energy experts and economists,” Boon said. “It’s very unfortunate it has to come at this point after a lot of money has been spent.
“I’m not gloating when people lose their jobs. I have empathy for people who made decisions to move homes and whatever they did to come here to work on this job expecting it to be long-term. Jobs are important, but that’s no justification for building a bad project. There’s better ways we can employ people than wasting taxpayers’ money on a bad project.”
In meantime, the Boons and other families facing possible eviction in the Peace Valley’s Bear Flats area hold out hope they can stay in their homes — and that the costs of submerging the farmland and First Nations territories will be eventually considered by the BCUC.
As for becoming essentially renters facing eviction from land they once owned, Boon said he trusts the new government is just busy and will soon let them know their fate.
“We’re looking forward to writing a cheque to BC Hydro,” he mused, “to buy our land back.”