bc-100419-site-c-rendering

This artist's rendering shows what the Site C dam could look like in about 2020. (BC Hydro)

First Nations in northeast B.C. and some prominent environmental organizations are critical of the province's announcement Monday that it's going ahead with the Site C dam.

The Council of Treaty 8 Chiefs, representing First Nations in the Peace region, said that when combined with forestry, oil and gas and mining projects, the dam would cause irrevocable damage to fish, wildlife and local agriculture.

The Sierra Club of B.C. said the Site C dam would destroy forest and farmland, hurt wildlife and increase carbon emissions, while the David Suzuki Foundation said too many questions about the project remain unanswered for it to proceed.

'You announced an environmental review — not the second coming of Christ.'—B.C. NDP environment critic John Horgan

The criticisms follow Premier Gordon Campbell's announcement that the $6.6-billion Peace River project would move into a third stage, which include talks with First Nations stakeholders and environmental assessments.

Tribal Chief Liz Logan said the government was moving ahead with the plan without ever having addressed past infringements on treaty rights caused by the W.A.C. Bennett and Peace Canyon dams, both of which are also on the Peace River.

West Moberly Chief Roland Willson said what he called, "the watering down of the environmental regulatory process," in the Site C approval process could result in the project slipping through with few environmental challenges.

Carbon footprint cited

The Sierra Club called the Site C decision "misguided."

"Instead of investing billions of dollars in a dam whose need is unproven, we should first spend our time and money developing a full provincial framework for future energy development before making a final decision on Site C," said George Heyman, executive director of the organization's B.C. branch.

The loss of a huge tract of forest would leave fewer trees to soak up carbon, while flooded farmland would reduce the province's food security, said Heyman.

That concern was echoed by a David Suzuki Foundation spokesman.

"They haven't looked at the costs that this dam is going to incur, in terms of the climate," said the foundation's science director, Faisal Moola. 

Moola said the project has the potential of destroying forest land that provides "a critical carbon sink," that is "sequestering the greenhouse gases the cause climate change."

In the B.C. legislature, the NDP opposition said the carbon footprint imposed by the government's announcement was irresponsible.

Five planeloads of officials and journalists were flown to northern B.C. for the event.

New Democrat environment critic  John Horgan said it could have been announced in brief statement in Victoria.

"How do you justify sending five planes full of people for a two-page press release?" Horgan asked. "You announced an environmental review — not the second coming of Christ."

Environment Minister Barry Penner dismissed the idea that the event could have been held anywhere outside the Peace region of northeast B.C.

"It betrays a certain arrogance on the part of the NDP and how beholden they are to their urban base," said Penner.

With files from The Canadian Press