Supporters of two proposed run-of-the-river hydro electric projects on the Ashlu and Sigurd Creeks were a rare sight at a public hearing Monday (May 17) that was key to the future of the projects.
The Squamish-Lillooet Regional District (SLRD) hosted the meeting and John Turner, the director of the regional district's Area D, chaired it.
The SLRD is currently considering a rezoning request to change the zoning of the area to Industrial-1. As part of the rezoning process, the public hearing was held to give those who feel they will be affected a chance to express concerns or support.
Squamish SLRD director Raj Kahlon attended the hearing along with Susan Gimse, the chair of the SLRD.
SLRD planning consultant Susan Stratis explained that the rezoning request was made by Ledcor Construction, the project proponent. She noted that Sigurd flows into the Ashlu.
"The rezoning application was submitted just over a year ago in May," Stratis said. She further explained that issues around kayaking set the bylaw process back and first reading took place last August.
Kelly Boychuk of Ledcor spoke briefly on behalf of the proponent. He noted that his company is adding to a grizzly bear study done by Interfor. He also said that negotiations regarding the power project are ongoing with the Ministry of Forests and Interfor.
According to Boychuk, his company is continually working to minimize the size of the structure proposed for Ashlu.
About 70 people attended the hearing. The only member of the public who spoke in favour of the rezoning was Xwa-Xwalkn, who is commonly known as Coun. Dale Harry of the Squamish Nation.The Squamish Nation struck a deal Ledcor in the so-called green power project. Harry said the Squamish Nation supports the project because of the positive opportunities it presented to local natives.
"The Squamish Nation is the biggest employer of our people," Harry said. "With the declining forest industry it'll be good to get some of our people working."
Those who spoke against the rezoning were either residents of the Upper Squamish Valley, kayakers, rafters, eco-tourism operators or citizens opposed to the dismantling of BC Hydro.Tom Rankin lives on the Mile 20 Ranch and he is the closest resident to the proposed power projects.
"Put it up the hill away from us," Rankin said. "Nobody wants the hydro lines in the valley. It's a thin valley that doesn't have room for more power lines. We don't need more radiation coming down on us from power lines."
Rankin accused Ledcor of flipping the project, saying Ledcor has sold the project to another company.
Boychuk later denied that, indicating that Ledcor is exploring the possibility of contracting the work to another company.
Doug Morrison, Lyle Fenton and others concerned about the future of BC Hydro cautioned that if the rezoning is allowed to go ahead, it will bring the province one step closer to losing control of the public utility. They fear that American interests are moving to take of the power company so it can be used to provide more electricity to the U.S.
Those concerned about the taxpayer-owned power company predict that if the Crown corporation becomes privatized there will be a drastic increase in electricity rates.
"This [intake] is going to be controlled from Washington State by a computer," Fenton said.
Numerous kayakers, including a group from Whistler who were forced to stay in Squamish until after midnight because of the highway construction work, complained that the project will permanently alter one of the best kayaking streams in the world.
Stuart Smith, the Whitewater Kayaking Association of B.C. projects coordinator, said the intakes are designed to leave enough water for fish but not enough for kayakers.
"The only thing green about these projects is the cash flow," said Don Butler, owner of a Whistler kayak company.
After three hours of people speaking against the project, Turner announced that a second public hearing might be required due to the fact that responses to the project are still expected from some potentially affected agencies.
Stratis read two pieces of correspondence that came to the regional district too late to be distributed to all the SLRD directors.
Derek Nishimura, a habitat biologist with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, wrote to indicate that his department is still working on its review of the project.
The other document Stratis read was an e-mail message from Sharon Szameit of Land and Water BC (LWBC).
LWBC informed various government bodies of the Ledcor plan and asked for responses to the proposal.
Szameit reported in the e-mail message that not all the agencies expected to respond had done so. Responses are outstanding from the Canadian Wildlife Service, the Ministry of Energy and Mines, Environment Canada and the Ministry of Forests.