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John Hart Dam compensation talks in jeopardy

Since 2007, two First Nations groups have been seeking compensation from BC Hydro for lost land near the proposed John Hart Replacement Project, and they say that talks are now close to breaking down.

The We Wai Kai and Wei Wai Kum First Nations had part of their land flooded when the generating station was built in 1947 and they received no compensation at that time.

According to negotiations coordinator Rod Naknakim, BC Hydro was going to make an offer to the bands last Friday, but failed to do so for the second time during negotiations.

“They said they were going to come back with an offer twice and they haven’t made an offer yet so the chiefs are very frustrated about it,” explained Naknakim. “We’re either going to have to come up with a break through or else it’s going to fall apart.”

BC Hydro is keeping quiet about the details of negotiations, and when asked about the reason it has not yet made an offer, referred to a statement made in a news release.

“Out of respect for the process and parties involved, we will refrain from commenting publicly about the details of our discussions,” said Chris O’Riley, BC Hydro Executive Vice-President, Generation in the release.

Naknakim said the First Nations want a share of the revenue that would be generated by the replacement station as compensation.

“What we were proposing was to consider some kind of revenue sharing approach, where we’re not taking anything out of anybody’s pocket, but just any revenue that’s generated from here on in the future,” said Naknakim. “But (BC Hydro) won’t even talk about it.”

According to Naknakim, no date has been set for the next meeting. The bands have asked for a written offer from BC Hydro, and a meeting will be scheduled once they receive one.

Although BC Hydro would not comment on whether the project will go ahead if an agreement is not reached, O’Riley said that BC Hydro is committed to the project.

“We are also committed to our goal of beginning the procurement and regulatory processes by spring 2012,” wrote O’Riley.

Naknakim said that the bands are now speaking to their lawyers about their legal options, and he said that if a deal isn’t reached soon, legal action is a possibility.

“We’d have to consider the legal route I suppose,” said Naknakim. “When you’ve got one of the parties that’s not even willing to consider your issues it’s very difficult to engage in any other way.”

The proposed project would cost $1.35 billion, and rumours have been circulating about how it will be paid for. O’Riley said that while BC Hydro is focused on reaching an agreement with the First Nations, it is considering ratepayers as well.

“We are focused on reaching an agreement that is fair and meaningful for everyone involved in the proposed John Hart Replacement Project and for our ratepayers,” he said. According to BC Hydro, it will announce information about hydro rates when it applies for project approval to the B.C. Utilities Commission this spring. If BC Hydro receives approval, work on the station could begin as soon as summer of 2013, according to BC Hydro spokesperson Stephen Watson.

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