British Columbia

Work on Site C suspended prior to First Nations lawsuit

Clearing for a power line near the Site C dam in northeastern B.C. has been voluntarily suspended by BC Hydro after two First Nations filed a lawsuit alleging the mega-project infringes on their treaty rights.

BC Hydro has voluntarily ceased construction in areas claimed as 'critical' by 2 B.C. First Nations

Indigenous protesters camped out near the Site C dam project in northern B.C for several months in 2015 and 2016. (Yvonne Tupper)

Clearing for a power transmission line near the Site C dam in northeastern B.C. has voluntarily been suspended by BC Hydro after two First Nations filed a lawsuit alleging the mega-project infringes on their treaty rights.

In January, the West Moberly and Prophet River First Nations started legal action against the dam, claiming its construction violates Treaty 8 signed in 1899, as well as the Canadian Constitution.

The Nations also filed a request for an injunction preventing any dam construction from proceeding until after the trial is complete.

At the request of the NDP government, BC Hydro is looking for a new route for a planned highway realignment as part of the Site C dam construction. (Andrew Kurjata/CBC)

BC Hydro spokesperson David Conway said the Crown corporation stopped clearing and road access work in areas identified as "critical" by the First Nations in their injunction. 

"We have committed to suspending this work until October 1, 2018, or a decision of the court on the injunction application, whichever is earlier," he said in an email to CBC.

The injunction hearing is expected to be heard between July and October.

West Moberly Chief Roland Willson said the current stoppage is "significant."

"If they are making these types of concessions before we even step foot inside the courtroom, we think that bodes well for our injunction."

Delay costs

Conway said while BC Hydro doesn't expect the delay to impact the completion date of Site C, the organization is "assessing the potential cost implications."

"Any increase in costs related to the work stoppage we expect be covered by the project's contingency [fund]," he said. 

In June 2017, then president of BC Hydro Jessica McDonald said delays to Site C's construction scheduled would cost millions.

Highway re-alignment changes expected

This isn't the first change BC Hydro has made to its construction schedule as a result of action from the two First Nations.

Earlier this year, the Crown corporation was asked by the NDP government to work with Treaty 8 First Nations and landowners in the area to come up with an alternate design for the realignment of Highway 29. 

B.C. Hydro's preferred route for highway realignment runs through two expropriated private properties and land that two First Nations say is culturally significant. (BC Hydro)

The original plan had the highway being realigned at a spot known as Bear Flat in order to avoid flooding once the dam is built.

The new road would run through the properties of two families whose land has been expropriated by BC Hydro, as well as land Willson and Prophet River First Nation Chief Lynette Tsakoza say is culturally significant to the Dunne-za people, including a gravesite, sweat lodge and "other important cultural sites". 

BC Hydro spokesperson Mora Scott said the organization is exploring the feasibility of shifting the realignment further north in order to avoid those areas.

Scott said she doesn't expect a decision on the realignment to be made until the summer.

BC Hydro also previously suspended construction work while waiting for the results of other legal action filed by the West Moberly and Prophet River First Nations.