Columbia River – Revelstoke MLA Norm Macdonald presented to the Legislature last week a petition signed by more than 500 Golden and area residents indicating their opposition to the development of private river-diversion projects on Ventego and Cupola Creeks.
“The residents of Golden have been pretty clear on this issue,” said Macdonald. “They do not support these projects. They do not want our rivers to be given away to private interests without our consent.”
The petition statement reads as follows:
The BC government is giving away our publicly owned land and water on Ventego and Cupola Creeks to generate electricity for export, we find this unacceptable. There is no provincial planning and the Columbia Shuswap Regional District, through the enactment of Bill 30, has had their zoning decision-making authority removed. Selkirk Power’s IPP proposals on Ventego and Cupola Creeks have not undergone provincial or federal environmental assessments and the cumulative impacts of the transmission lines, logging, road building, road improvements, along with significant creek diversion have not been evaluated by the provincial government. Your petitioners respectfully request that the Honourable House call for a moratorium on Selkirk Power’s proposals on all IPPs in BC until they are regionally planned environmentally appropriate acceptable to First Nations and publicly owned.
The petition was created by the Golden Chapter of Council of Canadians and had been milling around Golden and surrounding area for about six months. Trevor Hamre, vice-president of the local Council of Canadians chapter, said his message is still the same: We oppose the privatization of rivers in our community.
“We had to do this petition because Selkirk Power denied that there was even any opposition to their project,” said Hamre. He believes what happens from here depends on how well the community bands together.
The delivery of the petition to the legislature last Wednesday coincided with the opening of the official public comment period for Selkirk Power’s proposals. The B.C. Ministry of Natural Resources is now accepting comments until April 1, 2011.
“I would like to applaud the Council of Canadians Golden Chapter for collecting signatures on this petition, which clearly shows that a large number of Golden community residents do not want these projects to move forward,” said Rachel Darvill, Wildsight’s Columbia Headwaters Program Manager. “I would also like to thank MLA Norm Macdonald for making sure that his constituents’ voices were heard in the legislative assembly.”
Darvill explained that Wildsight does not support run-of-river hydro development in watersheds such as Ventego and Alder Creek. “Such pristine drainages are rare. They are home to at-risk species and high wilderness values that, once removed or displaced, will likely never come back.”
Prior to the passage of Bill 30, Miscellaneous Act (2006), also known as the Ashlu River Bill, local governments were part of the decision-making process on whether or not these river-diversion projects would proceed. Bill 30 removed the ability of local communities to say no.
“People in this area will not accept the development of these projects against their wishes. And this petition is just one more example of our determination to make our voices heard on this important issue,” said Macdonald.
Selkirk Power is a renewable energy development company based in Nelson. The proposed Beaver River Hydro Projects involves a 25 MW hydroelectric development project on Ventego Creek and a 16 MW project on Cupola Creek. Neighbouring Alder Creek was originally part of Selkirks’ plans but was not submitted to the clean power call. Plans are to submit it under the Standing Offer Program. The creeks are located approximately 50 kilometres northwest of Golden.
Douglas Hurst, Chairman and Secretary of Selkirk Power, said that the “petition really didn’t identify specific issues with the project,” referring to issues that are out of Selkirk Power’s control like Bill 30 and Environmental Assessment Office size requirements.
Hurst explained that the project is going through a local environmental review but has not gone through the provincial Environmental Assessment Office (EAO) because the project is under 50 MW, which is too small to fall into the hands of the EAO but instead falls into the hands of the Ministry of Natural Resources Operations (formerly ILMB). The EAO is a body that orchestrates the permitting of larger projects. The MNRO orchestrates the permitting of smaller projects like Selkirk’s. Approvals still go through all the same Federal and Provincial Agencies as a larger project. The project will, though, go through the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act screening process.
The project is now in a referral process. Comprehensive information packages have been sent to direct stakeholders (First Nations, etc) for their review.
“Once the comments are compiled we will address any project specific comments ” said Hurst, explaining we will accommodate stakeholders’ issues to the best of our ability. “If everything goes as we hope, we will get all our permits by the middle of this year and we can begin access re-construction this fall,” said Hurst.
The majority of the work, though, would not begin until next spring.
Darvill hopes the development plans are made more easily available to the public for review, explaining that since Selkirk Power’s open house in 2008, their development plans have changed substantially.
“Right now, if you want to review and comment on the development plans, you have to go in person to the Service B.C. government office in Golden or Revelstoke, and the documents cannot be removed from the office.”
Hurst said that even though Selkirk Power is not required to post the development plan online, they will provide them. Since there is over three Gigs of information, he said, it will take the company a week or longer to post the plans online.
He added that the company has had 48 meetings in Golden and surrounding area and that Selkirk Power is as “available as we possibly can be” when it comes to public input.