A journey into the heart of darkness that is Site C Dam

by Bruce Mason

» It’s absolutely essential to understand as much as you can about Christy Clark’s increasingly controversial Site C Dam. We’re all on the hook for nine billion, at the very least, but most likely for much more. $9,000,000,000+ for the most expensive, unnecessary and destructive project in BC’s history. Our children and grandchildren will also bear the costs down the line of this greedy elite theft from our public commons.

Nightmarish hydro bills, increasing and unfair taxes, reduced services, environmental carnage and trampled human rights – still before the courts – are the tip of the unrealized true total. This tally is growing exponentially, along with the opposition. And it’s difficult to determine any public benefit. A few highly paid temporary jobs will enable the creation of electricity that costs more to produce than its market value – for fossil fuel extraction the world no longer requires, or wants. Yet another boom, followed by the familiar and inevitable, bust. “Beautiful.” “Super.” “Natural.” BC.

In the meantime, our premier – who changes her mind about why – frantically pushes full speed ahead, in her words, “past the point of no return,” before the election in May. Please be warned, the damage already done, which will never be undone, was done behind our backs, without full disclosure, consultation or permission. Photographs of Site C will break the heart of anyone with a healthy beat.

The Peace in Peril: The Real Cost of the Site C Dam, a book to be released November 26th (Harbour Publishing) – pre-order at your favourite bookstore and make sure they get copies – adds to our evolving perception and perspective. “Independent journalist” [remember them?] Christopher Pollon canoed the 93-kilometre flood zone and talked to folks who inhabit it – the ones losing everything – as their forebears have, for at least 11,000 years. He paddled around thousands of acres of rich farmland, forests, 50 islands, ancient graves and sacred sites, all soon to be gone, forever. “How will lives, human and otherwise, be erased or irrevocably altered when the next great flood rises up to engulf the Peace River valley?” he asks.

Pollon has no axe to grind, no specific cause to flaunt. And he took along photojournalist Ben Nelms to share the experience. Few of us have actually laid eyes on the breathtaking paradise that is the Peace River valley. It’s been mostly hidden (thankfully) and less travelled in BC’s northeast corner, on both sides of the Rockies. Two years ago, only four in 10 of us had even heard of Site C, previous proposals having been turned down in more rigorous processes now internationally known in headlines for all the wrong reasons.

This is literature in a hurry, and rightly so. There isn’t much time. Ranchers and farmers will be evicted before Christmas. And Christy and her cronies are giddily tossing millions of tax dollars into thin air, while bullying their way through the very real collateral damage of Clark’s fracked gas wet dream.

Non-partisan, non-academic, part travel, part journalism, the book encapsulates a journey into the heart of darkness of an unfolding boondoggle and has been described as “bumbling.” For example, the duo touches off a region-wide panic when they neglect a daily check-in, amusing residents and needlessly aggravating search and rescue.

But they also begin to piece together the frustratingly complex jigsaw that includes some 60 mammal species, at least 215 types of birds, more than six kinds of amphibians and 30 types of fish. Concerns include sloughing (pronounced “sloffing”) – the sliding of clay, shale and silt from both banks. They fill in some history. In the 1960s, the Williston Reservoir, created by the W.A.C. Bennett Dam, included a vast aquatic wasteland, so thick in some places you could walk across 4,000 acres of floating, woody debris, dotted by a count of 12,500 moose carcases. That pales alongside Site C.

Pollon introduces some colourful, disheartened locals who have lived a life, defined and stunted by the reality, the shocks, and the shadows of otherworldly BC hydroelectricity, including the “jobs at any cost” crowd. Sixty-eight year-old Vic Gouldie relied on work building dams to raise his family and will lose part of his trapline to Site C. His comments are representative of some working people; if not eloquent, then at least, honest, his rancour for environmentalists peppered with expletives: “These fucking idiots who come up here to save the Peace, they have this big rally and weenie roast and say it will be gone forever! It will be a big improvement.”

As he sees it, when the dam – projected to be completed in 2024 – and its apocalyptic flood is done, there will be three big lakes. “This will be the Okanagan of the north. People will say it will be all fucked up and it will be. Maybe for my lifetime, but not for yours. If you have property up here, you’ll be sitting on a gold mine,” he tells Pollon.

The author also searches out the likes of 91-year-old Vernon Ruskin at his perch in the Royal Vancouver Yacht Club. He oversaw the design and planning for all three Peace dams: (1) W.A.C. Bennett; (2) Peace Canyon; and (3) Christy Clark? Ruskin reports the latter was re-designed for no apparent reason other than to put money into select pockets. “Now it takes more concrete, more rock fill, and so on. It’s also weaker. So we have to reinforce it more for earthquakes,” he explains, noting that contractors bid on whatever the traffic will bear.

Even Bill Bennett, our wilfully ignorant and wildly arrogant Energy Minister, recently admitted, “There can be no amount of money, no decision by any government, that will be consolation for those families. It is a very unfortunate and sad situation. I trust that they will be dealt with fairly by BC Hydro.” He “trusts.”

Bennett, who won’t be running in the upcoming election, was responding to a Union of BC Municipalities call for a halt to Site C for further study. “Out of their depth,” he said of hundreds of experts and elected civic governments.

The Peace in Peril provides one more deeper glimpse below the surface, an eyewitness and everyperson account. It may appear that Christy and Company is taking a high-risk gamble, against all odds and advice, with our hard-earned money. In actuality, they are grabbing all the cash they can. The only gamble is that we are too distracted, too uninformed, misinformed, or stupid, to notice.

Our options are: get on the gravy train, if we can; stop it, if we care; and finally, vote for people who work within our best interests and values. Meanwhile, the bills are in the mail, with your name and address on them. Any costs that can’t be immediately monetized will be borne by your offspring. Assuming you are fortunate enough to have them and the glacial melt doesn’t dry up the water source making the whole mess moot.

Thanks to Pollon, Nelms and the publisher for more evidence – already voluminous – of why we must stop Site C through direct, informed action on the ground, in social media, on the street, in conversation, in court and in polling booths. Starting right NOW!

Sign the petition at www.stopsitec.org

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