Turbine unwelcome on 'quiet and lovely beach' in Atlin, B.C., say residents

One of Atlin, B.C.,'s popular swimming beaches could soon host a hydroelectric turbine. Some people who live nearby are worried about the noise as well as the cutting of trees and installation of power lines required.

Some in the northern B.C. town say they haven't been properly informed about the project

Paul Lucas (right) walks on Pine Creek Beach. He worries that noise from a turbine would bother local people and is helping to organise a petition against it. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

One of the popular swimming beaches in Atlin, B.C., could one day host a hydroelectric turbine. 

Some people who live nearby, however, are worried about the noise and feel that they've been left in the dark about the plan.

The project is in the feasibility study phase. The B.C. government is accepting public comments until Dec. 5. 

Donna Hall, who has lived in Atlin all her life, is one of those writing to oppose the idea.  

Hall lives near Pine Creek Beach at the foot of Monarch Mountain and can hear the waves lapping the shoreline from her house. She says she would likely be hearing the new turbine 24 hours a day.

"I do support small hydro projects. Burning hydrocarbons is not the greatest thing. It's nice to be getting away from that. However green energy isn't green energy at all costs," she says.

Donna Hall says she can hear the waves splashing from her house. She says, therefore, that she would be hearing the new turbine 24 hours a day. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

Concerns about beach use and wildlife 

The beach on Atlin Lake is accessed via trails off Warm Bay Road. 

"The water is shallow so in summer it's warmer than the rest of the freezing-cold lake. People just enjoy it so much," says Hall.

The concern isn't only for local swimmers and dog-walkers. Hall worries about the effect of putting a turbine at the base of Pine Creek where it mixes with Atlin Lake.

"In the early summer there's thousands of little fish jumping. Just beyond Pine Creek there's good fishing, often for big trout because of the food material that comes down Pine Creek. In the spring and early summer, there's birds all over the place. Geese and swans and sandpipers and lots of little birds," she says.

Monarch Mountain Beach is accessible by trails and often used for swimming in summer. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

Community's existing turbine makes noise

The hydro project is being proposed by Tlingit Homeland Energy Ltd., a development company of the Taku River Tlingit First Nation.

It would create a similar plant on the beach to one already installed in Atlin further upstream. 

Carolyn Moore, who has lived in Atlin for 30 years, says she has no problems with that existing plant.

"This existing turbine is wonderful I must say. And it's built by the same people that are proposing the new one. 

"But the new proposal would send penstocks from there to the lake and have another turbine housing down at the Monarch Mountain beach. My house is close to it and the turbine at the beach will be huge. I expect it will be the size of this one. And it will be noisy as this one is," she says. 

Carolyn Moore has no problem with the current hydroelectric plant in Atlin B.C., which is far enough from the community as not to bother anyone. However doesn't want a second one built on a "quiet and lovely" beach near her house. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

Power would be sold to Yukon 

The existing micro-hydro plant supplies 2.1 megawatts which supplies most of Atlin's power. 

A new plant on the beach might be of similar size and would supply power to Yukon as a revenue-building venture for the Taku River Tlingit First Nation.

The project would be on Crown land, on which the B.C. government and Taku River Tlingit have a land-use agreement which would allow hydro development.

Installing a turbine would require cutting a 30-metre wide access corridor and the installation of pipes and power lines through a residential area.

Paul Lucas, who lives in a cabin nearby, says local homeowners would suffer the effects and see no benefit. He also worries about the plant's effect on a creek he uses for water supply.

"I don't think we're against development in Atlin at all. This is a town that's been built on development. It's just this specific part of this hydro expansion project," he says.

Tlingit Homeland Energy Ltd. is also proposing to expand the hydroelectric plant further upstream, adding another three megawatts of capacity. 

Lucas and other residents say they would welcome that part of the project, but not construction on the beach.

Organising papers at a local coffee shop: Residents of Atlin like Paul Lucas and Carolyn Moore are trying to make their views heard by petitioning the B.C. government and the Tlingit Homeland Development Corporation. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

Residents lobby B.C. government and First Nation 

Athea Boucher says the Atlin Board of Trade has concerns about Tlingit Homeland Energy's sharing of information.

One example is that many people hadn't heard about the project before unannounced blasting surprised people a year ago.

"I first heard about it after the testing and the explosion. It was kind of a big shock," she recalls.

Because Atlin is an unincorporated community it does not have a mayor or council to voice concerns. 

The Atlin Community Improvement District has said it will collect any residents' letters and forward them to the B.C. government.

Some residents have also created a Facebook page: Pine Creek Protection

"When you have no information, your hackles go up. Why wouldn't they tell us what's going on? If they had, the reaction wouldn't have been quite so severe. But because it's been a secret, that makes people wonder," Boucher says. 

"When you have no information, your hackles go up," says Athea Boucher, with the Atlin Board of Trade. "Because it's been a secret, that makes people wonder." (Philippe Morin/CBC)

Company says 'early in the game' and will continue study

Peter Kirby, CEO of Tlingit Homeland Energy Ltd, says he is aware of residents concerns.

However he says the company will continue its feasibility studies. He says it's still possible the beach project could be scaled back or cancelled entirely.

"It's still early in the game," he says.

"What we need to do is assess what the maximum potential is and then we work to address concerns whether they're social, environmental, whatever they might be.

"Will there necessarily be a project on that beach? We don't know. Until we do our feasibility work we can't answer that question."

In the meantime, residents like Hall are writing to the B.C. government hoping to retain their neighbourhood's peace and quiet.