Site C project will create instant lake, but threatens birds, bats and fish

VICTORIA – Birds, bats, butterflies and fish are among the diverse range of wildlife species destined to suffer habitat destruction from BC Hydro’s proposed Site C hydroelectric project in northeastern British Columbia, says the environmental impact statement filed by the Crown corporation.

Hydro’s Site C environmental spokeswoman Siobhan Jackson said Tuesday the Crown corporation has proposed plans to reduce and prevent harm to area wildlife and ecosystems, but there will be home losses for the Bay-breasted warbler, migratory bull trout and Drummond’s thistle.

Among Hydro’s measures to reduce the potential loss from its proposed $7.9 billion project are special protective crossings for amphibians, slower turning turbines that allow fish escapes and fish-free wetlands to permit safer breeding for dragonflies.

Hydro also bills the dam’s proposed 83-kilometre, 9,300-hectare reservoir as the Peace Country’s newest tourist attraction, a huge instant lake with at least three separate boat launch areas and well-stocked with fish, with Hydro estimating a 230 per cent increase in fish habitat for rainbow trout.

The environmental impact statement also forecasts flooding more than 5,000 hectares of land, of which at least 3,800 hectares is agricultural land. The project will also flood First Nations heritage sites and force up to 20 families — many life-long ranchers — to move.

“Ultimately, the environmental assessment considers the project benefits and the project effects and balances the two in reaching their decision on whether an environmental assessment certificate should be granted,” said Jackson, who was in Fort St. John briefing local residents about the Site C environmental report.

A decision on the environmental viability of the proposed Site C project by the federal and B.C. environmental regulatory bodies is expected by next year.

Hydro says if the project is approved, it will be in operation by 2021.

Jackson said Hydro identified in its environmental impact statement what it called 22 valued components that are expected to undergo some level of change due to the project.

They include agriculture, transportation, outdoor recreation and tourism, air quality, noise and vibration, heritage resources and human health.

Jackson said Hydro determined four valued components will endure losses due to the project — fish and fish habitat, vegetation and ecological community, migratory birds and traditional use of heritage areas by First Nations.

Hydro’s environmental impact study found populations of three local fish species — Arctic grayling, migratory bull trout and mountain whitefish — could be lost due to the dam’s construction.

But Hydro’s study suggested those fish may be found in tributaries located upstream and downstream from the proposed project.

The study found Site C will result in the loss of bird habitat for Cape May and Bay-breasted warblers, Yellow Rail and Nelson’s sparrow owl.

Ecological impacts from the reservoir project include the loss of old and mature flood plain forests located near the reservoir and the loss of rare plants, including Drummond’s thistle and little bluestem.

The creation of the reservoir also means the loss of First Nations cultural areas at Bear Flats, Farrell Creek and Attachie, the study said.

Jackson said the report highlights what Hydro believes will be expected increases in mercury levels in locally caught fish.

She said a byproduct of dam reservoirs often results in increased levels of mercury because flooding land and disturbing soils increases organic levels of mercury.

“In the case of Site C, the effect on human health is not considered to be an effect because the change would be a very low magnitude and wouldn’t be expected to change the safe consumption levels of fish below what people consume here,” said Jackson.

Hydro’s report says the arrival of thousands of construction workers in the Fort St. John area has already seen the Crown corporation contributing to the construction of affordable housing units, the hiring of more RCMP officers and offering to provide daycare spaces.

Hydro’s Site C Clean Energy Project would be the third dam and hydroelectric generating station on the Peace River in B.C.’s northeast. Site C will be about one-third of the size of the area’s W.A.C. Bennett Dam.

Hydro energy forecasts indicate customer demand for electricity is expected to increase by about 40 per cent over the next 20 years. Site C is projected to supply enough energy to power 465,000 homes for 100 years.

Former premier Gordon Campbell announced in April 2010, the on-again, off-again megaproject was going ahead.

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