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Ambitious BC Hydro substation project fails to take root

JOC News Service
Ambitious BC Hydro substation project fails to take root

VANCOUVER – BC Hydro’s ambitious "seed" program has failed to blossom.

The proposal, floated by BC Hydro in January, would have seen electrical substations built under Nelson Park and Emery Barnes Park, with potential upgrades to parks above the substations along with new schools, housing and recreation facilities.

As planned, the substations would be invisible to the public. Construction of Nelson Park would have taken place between 2020 and 2025 and Emery Barnes Park construction would have taken place from 2036 to 2041.

BC Hydro CEO Jessica McDonald cited cost as the factor for scrapping the proposal.

"We recently learned that, in exchange for the rights to build a substation underneath Emery Barnes Park, similar to our existing substation lease at Cathedral Square, the City of Vancouver has asked BC Hydro to pay a price based on what it would cost to purchase the land outright. This shift makes the extra costs of building underground prohibitive," said McDonald in a news release.

She added BC Hydro has held four public open houses, four roundtable meetings, two meetings with parent advisory councils and spoke to approximately 400 people. BC Hydro also received 219 feedback forms and 27 written submissions, with the majority, according to McDonald, in favour of the idea.

But the City of Vancouver passed a motion during a March 9 in-camera meeting to postpone any decision on the proposal.

As stated in a news release, council cited "limited consultation to date and a lack of information to address its concerns and concerns raised by the public as the main reasons for not providing approval at this time."

The city said it had concerns regarding noise, the impact on parks, transportation and utilities and electromagnetic field impacts. The city also pointed to financial due diligence and a limited timeframe to complete the transactions (as outlined by BC Hydro) as reasons for not going forward.

"We always knew the timelines and partnerships required to make this idea work were ambitious — but at a time when land is scarce and new community facilities and amenities are needed, we knew we owed it to the residents of Vancouver to explore new public partnerships to make better use of available land and enable a more efficient use of public funds," McDonald said.

According to the city, the project could only move forward with approval from Vancouver City Council, the park board and the Vancouver school board. The city is the registered owner of the land comprising each of the parks and owns adjacent streets, while the park board has permanent jurisdiction over permanent and temporary parks.

BC Hydro’s proposal also included the City of Vancouver granting a 99-year prepaid lease to enable construction of the proposed Emery Park subdivision and the utility company sought statutory rights of way over parkland for transmission and distribution lines. The city and BC Hydro were discussing the terms of the legal agreement, but they were not able to agree on the value of the land.

BC Hydro is the first utility company in North America to build an underground substation. A station was built in 1984 underneath Cathedral Square Park in downtown Vancouver and continues to operate. Part of the scrapped proposal would have included upgrades to the Cathedral Square station.

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