Councillor: BC Hydro deal will cost Campbell River taxpayers

Council made the decision behind closed doors at an in-camera meeting

Campbell Riverites can likely expect another tax increase because of an agreement the city made with BC Hydro, says one city councillor.

Coun. Ron Kerr is disappointed his fellow councillors so readily accepted a deal that will see  BC Hydro pay 75 per cent, up to $12.5 million, of the costs to build a new drinking water supply system necessary to accommodate upgrades to the John Hart Dam Generating Station.

Hydro plans to replace the three large pipes that transport water from the John Hart Dam to the generating station, and from where the city’s drinking water has been drawn for 65 years. A 2.1 kilometre tunnel will be built in place of the pipes.

Kerr said BC Hydro should take responsibility for funding the new water source because it is Hydro’s project.

“I believe they should be paying 100 per cent and that’s how you negotiate,” Kerr said. “You stick to it and you don’t say ‘oh that’s your best offer, let’s roll over and accept it.’ There was no reason to accept it yet. It’s too early, it was on their timetable. I think the concern that we’re going to jeopardize our relationship with Hydro is ill-conceived and I don’t think disagreeing with them is going to affect that relationship.”

Council made the decision behind closed doors at an in-camera meeting, closed to the public and the media. What was discussed during the meeting could not be brought into the public domain, so Kerr made a motion at the July 24 council meeting to have the in-camera meeting minutes made public. That motion passed with councillors Adams, Moglove and Storry opposed.

According to the minutes, Hydro spokesperson Stephen Watson attended the in-camera session, distributed a five-page handout and explained to council that the power company’s offer still needs to be approved by the BC Utilities Commission in early 2013. Still, council passed a motion to accept Hydro’s contribution of 75 per cent of the project costs with Mayor Walter Jakeway and Kerr the only two opposed. As part of the motion, council will also continue to work with BC Hydro to reduce project costs and seek assistance to secure additional sources of funding.

The city expects the project to cost between $15 and $20 million but a definite figure is still up in the air.

“To the Campbell River taxpayers it’s a huge amount and it’s going to increase taxes,” Kerr said. “We’re talking a significant amount of money here to the Campbell River taxpayer, plus we don’t even know yet what the exact number is.”

Mayor Jakeway agrees with Kerr that Hydro should be footing the bill, not the community.

“It’s not a Campbell River responsibility,” he said. “It’s a (BC Hydro) project cost. They can spin doctor the situation all they want, but nothing has changed.”

Watson thought otherwise.

“The city has been very supportive of the John Hart project, and our ongoing positive relationship has culminated in an agreement on BC Hydro’s funding contribution,” he said in a joint press release issued by BC Hydro and the city following the in-camera meeting. Kerr said he’s still trying to understand why council jumped to accept Hydro’s offer so quickly, when the project is still at least one or two years down the road.

“To me it just doesn’t make sense,” Kerr said. “There was limited discussion and it was done too fast.

“Partners don’t cut off your water supply and if we’re partners with BC Hydro you just don’t do that. They should be paying for the full cost and it’s a good position to stick with.”

The city could apply for federal and provincial grants to cover the remainder of the costs, but Kerr said that’s taking away funding for other city projects.

Coun. Andy Adams, liaison to BC Hydro, confirmed the city will look elsewhere for financial support.

“The city is not in a position to pay for the water intake construction,” he said. “City council supports this agreement for funding support and appreciates BC Hydro’s contribution and continued assistance. The city has always been a strong supporter of the John Hart project and the significant economic opportunities, investment and job creation this will bring.”

The city plans to finalize costs, timelines, and plans for the new water intake from the John Hart Lake this fall.

The John Hart Dam Generating Station upgrade project is expected to be complete by the end of 2018. The project will replace an aging facility, operating since 1947 and is expected to improve power reliability and seismic safety. The project involves replacement of the water intake, replacing the pipes with a tunnel, constructing a replacement generating station, and building a new water bypass facility. The John Hart project is undergoing a review by the BC Utilities Commission.