Will BC create a Peace Valley breadbasket or a Site C basket case?
by Bruce Mason
In photo, Caroline Beam and her children Xavier, Lucas and Tristan at their home on the banks of the river, with the Gates pictured in the background. The Beam children have grown up with the river as their backyard. From the upcoming book, The Peace in Peril, by Christopher Pollon. Photo by Ben Nelms.
• Let’s focus for a moment on some fundamental issues for Common Ground readers – nutrition and food security, safety, sustainability and sovereignty – as they relate to the most costly ($9 billion and rising), unnecessary mega-project in BC history.As you read this, scorched-earth infrastructure for a massive, otherworldly wall of compacted earth is being constructed to crush and greedily swallow up nature in the northeastern Peace Valley. Towering 60 meters high, and more than a kilometre wide, the Site C dam will cause an apocalyptic, man-made, 93-square-kilometre flood, engulfing enough precious topsoil to grow the nutritional requirements for at least one million people.
That’s healthy food for more than 20 percent of the province’s population from fertile alluvial soil, in a unique micro-climate with long summer daylight; it is the only large tract of land that remains for future horticultural expansion. The estimate is based on BC Hydro’s own figures from back in the ‘80s when an independent review nixed a third Peace dam as a bad idea – not in the public interest. The power grab briefly reared its head again in the ‘90s. Now, here we are: Site C Whack-A-Mole, 2016.
Town Hall Meeting
Premier Clark’s $9 billion heist
|A Town Hall meeting for Site C dam
Hosted by Wilderness Committee and Council of Canadians
Roundhouse Community Centre
181 Roundhouse Mews, VancouverEveryone welcome. With Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs (UBCIC), Emma Gilchrist (DeSmog Canada) & Ben Parfitt Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA). Visit www.wildernesscommittee.org, 604-683-8220 or www.canadians.org, 604-688-8846.
Wendy Holm, the award-winning former president of the BC Institute of Agrologists (www.bcia.com), explains, “Healthy food for a million people is a very conservative estimate. This farmland is much closer than California, or Mexico. It will be needed in the future. We could have co-ops of young people growing organic fruits and vegetables in a heartbeat.”
Surely that’s music to many under-employed ears and minds in BC’s unaffordable Lower Mainland, where – like everywhere else – farmers markets, farm-gate sales ($2.8 billion in 2012) and allotments are booming, in stark contrast to busting fossil fuels and resource extraction.
A recent Real Estate Foundation/Vancouver Foundation opinion poll revealed that 92 percent of respondents say it’s very important that BC produce enough food to be independent of imports. Even as our Christy contemplates the largest withdrawal from the agricultural land reserve in provincial history, a decision that will remove forever from our Commons, tens of thousands of acres of fertile Class 1 and 2 farmland and CO2-guzzling forest.
“This land is our green grocer. This land is our Plan B for the province in terms of nutrition and health,” Holm states. “To cover these soils with water for a dam is criminal on a public policy level.”
A truthful accounting of lost farmland includes not just those immediately flooded by the reservoir, but also lands that erode and are destabilized and collapse, and those paved to re-route existing highways, etc. In fact, as little as one-fifth of land, soon to be under 50 metres of water, is capable of producing enough fruits and vegetables to feed one million people. A potential bonanza, far beyond Clark and Trudeau’s tunnel vision.
BC is food-deficient in fresh vegetables and fruit; we currently supply only 43 percent of our market. A 2014 Vancity report, “Wake up Call: California Drought & BC’s Food Security,” outlines the urgent need for self-reliance to secure future access to healthy food. In 2010, 67 percent of BC’s vegetable imports came from the US, over half of which were from California, which, as we all know, has been experiencing “extreme” and “exceptional” ongoing drought conditions.
BC’s vegetable crop production fell 20.4 percent between 1991 and 2011, with significant decreases in several staple crops. Strawberry production in the province, for example, has fallen 60 percent. And, as we continue to import 95 percent of all broccoli and 74 percent of all lettuce, the report predicts prices of $7 per crown and $3.50 per head, respectively.
Those kinds of prices are already the norm in northern regions, areas in close proximity to the Peace. Yet pesticide and GE-free greens, asparagus, and more – now trucked at least 2,000 kilometres – could flow from half that distance to any table in the province.
In “health crazy” BC, at least among the relatively well heeled, we have the highest child poverty rate in the nation and we are the only province without an anti-poverty plan. And too many British Columbians exist below recommended nutritional guidelines, which is especially harmful and costly to childhood development.
The Peace option is no pipe dream, unlike fracked natural gas fantasies. Last September, when the nation was caught in federal election throes, Common Ground published an excerpt from Jeff Rubin’s The Carbon Bubble: What Happens to Us When It Bursts. The former chief economist at CIBC World Markets spelled out how Canadian governments squander economic opportunity by emphasizing resource extraction. He predicted that water-rich Canada would become the breadbasket to the world because climate change was resulting in longer growing seasons north of the 49th. That fact is not lost on Asian “investors” purchasing huge tracts of Canadian farmland, as our trade missions flog agricultural product to foreign markets, mainly China.
Holm, in her 2014 submission to the Site C Review panel, concluded, “There are many sources of energy. Only fruits and vegetables are fruits and vegetables. Leaving food prices to global forces invites food poverty and all of its attendant economic and social costs. The natural capital held in the alluvial soils and Class 1 climate of the Peace River Valley is trans-generational and not for us to withdraw.”
Food for thought and discussion and another arrow in the quiver for the looming, epic, international battle for common sense and sanity at Site C.
Bruce Mason is a Vancouver and Gabriola Island-based banjo player, gardener, writer and author of Our Clinic.
Inevitable dam fallout
Site C will:
- Damage the Peace Athabasca Delta in Wood Buffalo National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the largest such fresh water body on the planet.
- Devastate the traditional territories of the Treaty 8 First Nations and 11,000 years of sacred history, culture and rights, as well future livelihood.
- Decimate moose, fish, bear and other wildlife, contaminated with toxic methyl mercury from decaying trees and other vegetation. It will also release toxic methane into the atmosphere.
- Cut a key wildlife migration corridor and severely impact wetlands, migratory birds, and more.
- Suppress development of climate-friendly power sources, such as solar, wind, tidal and geothermal energy, dishonouring Canada’s climate agreements, goals and promises.
- Bankrupt BC Hydro and bloat energy bills for generations. And smart meters have made it possible to cut off power to tens of thousands more non-paying customers with the click of a button – more than six times the previous rate – while mining companies defer 75 percent of their hydro bills for up to two years.
BC Hydro’s boasts about Site C dam
In Christy Clark’s plan to “push Site C beyond the point of no return,” BC Hydro boasted of “significant progress” in the first year, despite myriad unresolved court challenges and the serious concerns of the likes of Amnesty International, UNESCO, hundreds of scientists, First Nations, BC’s Government Employees Union and other groups. Below, we quote BC Hydro’s Chris O’Riley, Deputy CEO, Capital Infrastructure Project Delivery. (From BC Hydro’s Site C construction update, August 10, 2016.)
- “Financial commitments now totalled more than $4 billion, including the worker accommodation lodge ($470 million), main civil works ($1.75 billion) and turbines and generators ($470 million).
- 2.5 million cubic metres of material had been excavated by mid-summer – enough to fill about 1,000 Olympic-size swimming pools.
- 900 hectares of land had been cleared – roughly the size of 850 baseball fields.
- 1,200 rooms had been built at the worker accommodation facility – 75 percent of the total number of rooms required (and apparently affordable).
- Over 65,000 cubic metres of timber had been delivered to local mills in Fort St. John for processing.
- A 329-metre temporary construction bridge had been built across the Peace River.
- …Working hard to build relationships with First Nations – based on ‘mutual respect, trust and opportunities to benefit’ – included approximately $130 million in procurement. Aboriginal businesses had been involved in clearing, site preparation, roads and bridges, safety and security, substation work, environmental monitoring and the operation of a health clinic for project workers.” [Editor’s note: Ironically, all this seeming goodwill is in stark contrast to the situation at the end of September when Peter Lantin, president of the Haida Nation, asked Christy Clark to stay away from the Royals’ visit to Haida Gwaii. The community is opposed to the controversial Pacific NorthWest LNG project that received approval from the federal government.]