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Minister backs off on dam closure

Energy Minister Rich Coleman backed off on a suggestion to decommission the John Hart Dam following a tour with BC Hydro engineers on Friday morning.

“This is also the water supply. That’s different than the other (dams),” said Coleman, following the tour of the Campbell River dam and nearby power generating station.

Last week, Black Press reported that Coleman was exploring the options of decommissioning the John Hart Dam and the Ruskin Dam located in the Fraser Valley.

The minister is concerned with the costs of upgrading both facilities: the John Hart project is estimated at $1.35 billion and Ruskin is projected to cost $700 million. Other BC Hydro upgrade projects are expected to increase electricity rates by as much as 50 per cent in the next five years.

The Campbell River project involves replacing the water pipelines – that run from the reservoir to the generating station – with tunnels through the bedrock as well as the station itself. The John Hart Lake reservoir is also the water supply for the city.

While the future of the Ruskin Dam remains in limbo, John Hart appears to be “safe” and the project is expected to move ahead. However, it will be subject to a review under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act. The review is expected to begin later this summer.

Coleman doesn’t expect the review to take too long given BC Hydro’s good working relationship with Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

Hydro has also held several open houses over the past three years to inform the public and to gather feedback on the John Hart project.

And if all goes well, work could begin in late 2012 and last for four to five years. The John Hart dam and generating station were built in 1947, and currently supplies 11 per cent of Vancouver Island’s electricity. The upgrade would boost that output.

Coleman still wants B.C. Hydro to “re-state its business case” on the upgrade projects to the BC Utilities Commission.

He wants a better explanation of how hydro intends to pay for the construction and the cost benefits.

“It needs to be better understood by the public,” said Coleman.

Representatives of BC Hydro will be in Campbell River on Thursday for a Chamber of Commerce luncheon at the Coast Discovery Inn. They will be talking about contract opportunities as was as an update on the John Hart reconstruction project.

 

– with files from Tom Fletcher/Black Press

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