He has lost at every level of Canada’s court system, but the West Moberly First Nations chief is vowing to go to court again in an effort to stop completion of the Site C dam in northeastern B.C.
A lawyer for Chief Roland Willson issued a statement Tuesday saying discussions with the B.C. government to avoid the latest legal action against the dam have ended, and a trial is expected to begin in March 2022 to determine if West Moberly’s treaty rights have been infringed by construction of the third dam on the Peace River near Fort St. John.
Willson and his lawyer Tim Thielmann quoted Premier John Horgan’s statements while B.C. opposition leader in support of traditional hunting and fishing rights under Treaty 8, the 1899 treaty in which the region’s first nations ceded the territory to the Crown.
“We can’t disclose anything confidential from the discussions with B.C., but I can assure you that there are dark days ahead for Site C,” Willson said, predicting further construction delays.
B.C. Hydro postponed the diversion of the river for construction of the earth-fill dam until the summer of 2020, but said the delay wouldn’t mean missing the 2024 target for the dam to begin producing power. That delay and other unforeseen construction issues prompted the provincially owned utility to increase its cost estimate from $8.5 billion to $10.7 billion.
Horgan and Energy Minister Michelle Mungall inherited the project from former premier Christy Clark, who took an active role in pushing for its completion after her predecessor Gordon Campbell made the decision to proceed. The Horgan government reluctantly approved carrying on with Site C after forming a minority government in 2017.
The project has thousands of workers on site this summer, completing river diversion tunnels and building the powerhouse, intakes and other key components. As the third dam, Site C reuses stored water from the Peace Canyon and W.A.C. Bennett dams upstream, producing enough power for 450,000 homes with a much smaller reservoir size.
West Moberly and the Prophet River First Nation have carried on a long legal battle against Site C, which will flood more than 80 km of valley bottom land, widening and deepening the river. Their challenge of provincial permits was rejected by the B.C. Supreme Court in 2016, and later by the Federal Court of Appeal. The Supreme Court of Canada declined to hear the last appeals of that case in 2017.
In 2006, Campbell’s government and B.C. Hydro negotiated compensation of $14 million with ongoing support payments for the communities of Kwadacha and Tse Keh Dene, established at new sites on Williston Reservoir after original reserves were flooded by the original W.A.C. Bennett dam in 1967.