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Infrastructure expert questions Site C schedule, transparency

Warren Frey
Infrastructure expert questions Site C schedule, transparency
BC HYDRO - West Moberly First Nations hired E. Harvey Elwin, a U.S. expert on dams and similar infrastructure, to assess progress on the Site C hydroelectric project as part of their injunction request to the B.C. Supreme Court. The expert stated the project was behind schedule and lacked transparency. BC Hydro Site C community relations manager David Conway said the project is moving ahead as planned and remains on budget. Pictured is concrete being poured for the south bank powerhouse buttress in July.

An infrastructure expert claims the Site C megaproject is behind schedule and lacks transparency.

West Moberly First Nations hired E. Harvey Elwin to assess progress on the Site C hydroelectric project as part of their British Columbia Supreme Court injunction request to stop work at the project. This comes ahead of a trial to determine whether the project violates their treaty rights. Elwin is a U.S. expert on dams and similar infrastructure.

The injunction follows the filing of civil claims by the West Moberly and Prophet First Nations, at the beginning of the year, that stated construction of the northeastern B.C. project violates the Canadian Constitution and Treaty 8, signed in 1899.

“This injunction is an application to suspend work on project until there can be a full trial to determine if there is infringement. It’s West Moberly asking the judge to suspend work so the valley isn’t destroyed before they get to trial,” said Sage Legal general counsel Tim Thielmann.

Sage Legal is the law firm representing West Moberly First Nations.

“What we received initially from BC Hydro was primarily evidence in the form of summaries from contractors, and the level of detail in those affidavits was completely inadequate,” Thielmann claimed.

In Elwin’s July 9 affidavit, he stated “based on my experience with many major dam and hydroelectric projects constructed by numerous governmental and public agencies, it is my opinion that the extremely high level of confidentiality and the lack of availability of quantitative progress, cost, and schedule status and progress information in the Site C Project public and BCUC (British Columbia Utilities Commission) quarterly and annual progress reports is extraordinary. I have never seen in 50 years a major public project or program being put in place for its ratepayers by a public agency providing as little information.”

A lack of clear schedule data in affidavits supplied to Elwin by BC Hydro and a lack of access to relevant documents “made it necessary for me to comb through the BC Hydro Affidavits and BC Hydro’s Environmental Impact Statement and create a project management schedule for each of the four areas of work that BC Hydro claims would be impacted by an injunction over work performed in the Critical Areas: (1) Highway 29 Realignment; (2) Hudson’s Hope Shoreline Projection; (3) Clearing; and (4) Transmission Line,” Elwin said in his affidavit.

While BC Hydro will not comment on matters currently before the court, BC Hydro Site C community relations manager David Conway said the company has voluntarily provided the BCUC with quarterly reports, all of which are available on the BCUC website.

“I will say that BC Hydro has committed to finishing the project in the most prudent and efficient way possible,” Conway said, and cited Quarterly Report No. 11 submitted to the BCUC on July 11 by BC Hydro president and CEO Chris O’Riley.

In the report, O’Riley said the company had resolved an issue with their main civil works contractor that had caused river diversion delays and would meet the targeted scheduled date of completion for the project.

“With an agreement in place that resolves prior issues with our main civil works contractor, a revised contractual schedule that meets 2020 river diversion and a strengthened project team with independent oversight from EY Canada, BC Hydro is in a stronger position to deliver Site C within budget and on schedule for 2024,” O’Riley said.

“Over the past several months, from January to March 2018, BC Hydro worked diligently with Peace River Partners to reach a memorandum of understanding with the contractor to meet the 2020 river diversion. The project is also accelerating several key construction activities, and has reached settlement of past issues that arose prior to May 31, 2018,” Conway added.

“We also have incentives for completion of the diversion by 2020, and the incentives are within the total budget.”

The Site C project is currently estimated to cost $10.7 billion. In a previous Journal of Commerce article, Conway stated construction work on the 1,100-megawatt hydroelectric dam and generating station on the Peace River is moving ahead as planned and the project remains on budget.

Site C has been a controversial project over the years, with the provincial NDP government promising a review of the project as part of its election platform. Once elected into power, a review was conducted and, last December, the NDP decided the project should proceed.

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