As BC Hydro embarks on a period of facility construction and upgrading that will encounter controversy and opposition, CEO Jessica McDonald held up Campbell River as a shining example of a community where partnership works.
“The reality, of course, is we don’t always have this level of support for our projects,” McDonald said at a Campbell River Chamber of Commerce luncheon at the Maritime Heritage Centre on Friday.
McDonald praised Campbell River, a community where the public utility is spending a billion dollars to upgrade generating facilities.
“In many ways, Campbell River is one of BC Hydro’s most strategic communities in the province, given our operational presence here…but also the partnerships and the trust and the willingness to work together,” McDonald said.
Campbell River is playing a large part in BC Hydro’s current phase of facility expansion that is highlighted by the controversial $8.3 billion Site C dam, the third on the Peace River in northeastern B.C.
“Here in Campbell River you are playing a very large role in this build era,” McDonald said. “We’re replacing the John Hart Generating Station built almost 70 years ago.
“It’s not just a critical source of power for Vancouver Island, the reservoir is a source of drinking water for your city and it is surrounded by the Elk Falls Provincial Park and this is the heart of one of the most valued salmon fish habitats in the world.”
McDonald said replacing the John Hart Generating Station “is a really neat project.” The new facility will be built underground and the bypass facility will be carved out of the rock.
BC Hydro will also be improving the “seismic withstand” capability of the John Hart and Strathcona dams and will be replacing the Campbell River substation.
All of this reflects BC Hydro’s modern approach to building facilities in which it strives to mitigate the impact of projects through study and consultation, McDonald said, particularly with First Nations communities.
“I believe the partnerships we have built with the Campbell River community are a great example of how our approach to projects has changed for the better,” McDonald said.
Consultation on the John Hart project began in 2007 with the Campbell River community and seven First Nations and two treaty societies.
“There have been 300 meetings with First Nations and various stakeholders that listened to and addressed concerns and tried to identify opportunities,” McDonald said.
She cited the agreement to turn over the rock removed from the Salmon River diversion project to the Wei Wai Kai First Nation.
McDonald also cited the partnership BC Hydro has with the Campbell River Chamber of Commerce when it developed the Major Projects Portal web site to identify business opportunities with the John Hart project. Her list of benefits also included learning opportunities in the school district as well as the identification of recreational and tourist facilities like the Elk Falls Suspension Bridge which BC Hydro contributed to and which opened over the weekend. McDonald was among the dignitaries who got a sneak preview of the bridge on Friday, prior to Saturday’s public opening.
McDonald seemed to address the potential for conflict over the Site C dam in northeastern B.C. and other projects when comparing the reception BC Hydro’s work has received from the Campbell River area.
Social awareness is required in these projects but there also needs to be some acceptance on the part of the public.
“It’s easy to advocate for special interests and say no,” McDonald said.
There are few who will step forward and work with the proponent to figure out how something can work for the community. It’s an issue of developing social licence, getting public permission to do what works for the benefit of the economy and society.
As we reconcile competing interests, not everyone can be accommodated, McDonald said.
“But when we can develop very strong partnerships like we have in Campbell River we can try to find the very best solutions,” she said.