by Craig Benjamin, Amnesty International Canada
Expert testimony prepared for the upcoming court hearing concludes that there is an “extremely high probability” that BC Hydro will face major construction delays and further cost overruns – but not because of the temporary injunction sought by the West Moberly First Nations.
West Moberly is asking the court is either halt construction entirely, or at least preserve the most culturally and ecologically sensitive areas of the Peace River Valley, until the underlying issue of Treaty rights violations is finally addressed.
Now we’ve got the cold, hard facts, and nobody can blame us for the massive delays and cost overruns to come
In an affidavit filed on behalf of the West Moberly First Nation, Harvey Elwin, a civil engineer with five decades experience with major hydroelectric projects around the world, says that temporarily protecting the areas identified by West Moberly would have no impact on the ability of BC Hydro to meet what are called Project Milestones.
In contrast, the expert report concludes that BC Hydro’s current work schedule is “overly optimistic and not realistically achievable” on a number of critical aspects of dam construction not affected by the requested injunction,
Responding to the expert testimony, Chief Roland Willson of West Moberly First Nations said,
“We’ve been hearing rumours of problems at the dam site for a while. But now we’ve got the cold, hard facts, and nobody can blame us for the massive delays and cost overruns to come.”
Some of the key information revealed by Elwin’s testimony directly contradicts public claims by the Government of BC about the extent of work already completed on the project.
You can read the expert testimony here:
Elwin was able to review BC Hydro documentation that has not been released publicly. Because of the confidentiality agreement required by BC Hydro, parts of his own affidavit had to be redacted before being publicly posted.
Elwin’s affidavits shine a light on the shocking levels of secrecy surrounding the costs and schedule of this project. Elwin states that in his five decades of work in the sector, he has never seen a publicly financed project withhold so much information from the public. His affidavit states that this level of secrecy is “far from the norm” and “in conflict” with the responsibilities of government and a publicly-financed corporation.
The Site C dam will cause severe, permanent harm to a unique ecosystem and to the ability of First Nations to practice their cultures and traditions. It will also uproot farmers from lands that have been in their families for generations.
The legal challenge mounted by Prophet River and West Moberly goes to the most basic, unanswered question about Site C – is the project even legal, given Canada’s Treaty obligations to First Nations in the Peace Region?
The latest revelations go to a second, fundamental question: can the destruction caused by the dam be justified? This question requires objective information about the actual costs and timeline of the project so that the viability of alternatives can be accurately assessed –the very information that BC Hydro has tried to keep from the public.
Harvey Elwin’s expert testimony is clearly summarized in two new articles by The Narwhal’s Sarah Cox (author of Breaching the Peace):
Site C dam facing ‘extremely high probability’ of major construction delay: expert witness
Site C dam secrecy ‘extraordinary’, international hydro construction expert tells court proceeding
You can also read the response from the West Moberly First Nation:
Craig Benjamin is Amnesty International Canada’s campaigner for the human rights of Indigenous peoples.