Group rallies against Beaver River Hydro Project at town council meeting

  • Mar. 23, 2011 4:00 p.m.
Sadie Parr speaks on behalf of the Council of Canadians during a rally at Town Hall.

Sadie Parr speaks on behalf of the Council of Canadians during a rally at Town Hall.

Selkirk Power chairman Douglas Hurst was welcomed to last Tuesday’s Town council meeting by a rally of around 100 locals who are opposed to the company’s proposed Beaver River Hydro Project.

Although Hurst came to Golden to present an update on the project to council and answer questions Councillors might have regarding the proposed power line route through town, local organizations Wildsight, the Council of Canadians and concerned Golden residents saw it as an opportunity to show why they opposed this run-of-river hydroelectric project.

Selkirk Power’s Beaver River Hydro Project includes hydroelectric power projects on Cupola, Ventego and Alder Creeks, all located about 50 km northwest of Golden. The combined capacity of the three projects is approximately 44 megawatt (MW) and will be connected to the new Columbia Valley Transmission line at Golden. Project specifics include 17 km of buried penstocks, 2 powerhouses, 52 km of wooden-pole, 69 kilovolt transmission lines and eight kilometers of new road.

Trevor Hamre, vice-president of the local Council of Canadians (COC) chapter, spoke at the rally, explaining that COC’s main issue with the project is the move to private ownership of our energy resources while Rachel Darvill, Wildsight’s Columbia Headwaters Program Manager, spoke on the ecological damage Wildsight believes the Beaver River Hydro project will incur with the addition of roads, power lines, human activity and three river diversions. Other Golden and Kootenay residents spoke on topics like energy conservation and the power of a community rallying together.

At the beginning of the council meeting, Golden Mayor Christina Benty explained that this run-of-river project is a complex issue and of great concern to much of the community. She noted that this council meeting was not the venue for community dialogue on the issue and asked people opposed to the project to refrain from any comments, heckling or gestures.

“I think the message is clear here that a public forum would have been great,” Mayor Benty said. “This is completely out of our area of expertise and jurisdiction.”

By this, Benty was referring to Bill 30 — a bill passed by the provincial government five years ago that removed the authority of local governments over run of river projects in their regions.

As for the possibility of public forum, Hurst explained that over the past three years he and his company have  “almost forced” themselves into public dialogue with Golden residents.

“Up until six months ago people didn’t want to talk about this,” Hurst said at the meeting. “We’re very open to one on one dialogue, and if you’re really worried review that data online and pick up the phone or write to us with your questions.”

Columbia River-Revelstoke MLA Norm Macdonald also spoke at the rally before the meeting, saying: “If they (Selkirk Power) cannot come into a community like this and convince people like you and I that this is the right project, then it probably isn’t.”

Although the rally against Selkirk Power was no surprise to Hurst, he did say (in a phone interview after the event) that using the municipal chambers as a place to rally was inappropriate since the local government has no jurisdiction over the matter.

He began his presentation with a representative of the Adams Lake Indian Band reading a message from chief Nelson Leon:

“Selkirk Power has been very respectful and considerate throughout this process as they are very mindful and respective of our traditional values and our relationship with Mother Earth,” the letter stated. “The Adams Lake Indian Band hopes to become a business partner with Selkirk Power in the project and is fully supportive of the project.”

Hurst had hoped that dialogue with the community of Golden would be similar to the process Selkirk power has gone through with both the Adams Lake Indian Band and the Ktnuaxa Nation. He believes both processes were both thorough and practical, with the Shuswap band interested in ownership and the Ktunaxa currently in the consultation process.

He explained that it’s difficult to have a healthy public dialogue when groups come to the table with their minds already made up — a result, said Hurst, of being ideological raher than practical. Another difficulty is the public’s understanding of energy, which often ends with the “flip of the light switch”.

Hurst presented council with project updates, which include the decision to amalgamate the Ventego and Cupola Powerhouse, a head pond increase from 0.5 hectares to 1.0 hectare and an increase in maximum power production from 25 to 25.5 MW for the Ventego project and a decrease in voltage for the Cupola project from 20 to 16 MW. The Alder Creek project has decreased from 11 MW to 2.5 MW and the penstock length has been reduced.

The proposed power line route through Golden includes a combination of overbuild of existing BC Hydro distribution lines and new transmission lines that bypass the town centre and end at the new Kicking Horse substation, located at the second switchback on the way up to the ski resort.

Hurst explained that Selkirk Power will continue to work in conjunction with the Town of Golden until an appropriate route for the power lines is agreed upon.

Town councillor Kuljit Jaswal was the only town representative to ask questions after the presentation, ranging from topics like road blasting, the halted fish translocation, how the project benefits the community of Golden to whether or not Selkirk Power would consider a town referendum on the issue.

Hurst said Selkirk Power is more interested in proper dialogue over a referendum.

The public comment session for the Selkirk Power’s Beaver River Hydro project is open until April 1, 2011.