Dam news could be good news for John Hart Dam

The B.C. Utilities commission has provided a hopeful sign for the proposed $1.35-billion upgrade of Campbell River’s John Hart power system.

The B.C. Utilities commission has provided a hopeful sign for the proposed $1.35-billion upgrade of Campbell River’s John Hart power system.

On Wednesday, the commission approved a $718-million upgrade of the Ruskin Dam and powerhouse near Mission.

The Ruskin system produces almost the same amount of electricity as the John Hart Generating Station, but is 20 years older. Both systems also have seismic stability issues.

According to a BC Hydro news release, the commission determined, “‘the Ruskin Dam and Powerhouse Upgrade Project is necessary and in the public interest as it is the most cost-effective long-term solution’ compared with deferring the work, de-rating (powering down) the facility, or decommissioning the site and removing the dam.”

BC Hydro staff have also determined the best course for the John Hart system is to revamp it rather than deconstruct the dam, pipelines and the powerhouse.

The ambitious billion-dollar plan for Campbell River is to replace the wood-stave pipelines with a tunnel through bedrock which will run downhill to connect with a brand new powerhouse.

Earlier this year, Hydro spokesman Stephen Watson said the Campbell River proposal still needs approval from the B.C. Utilities Commission, and that decision was expected this spring.

However, in March, BC Hydro said it will wait until next year to ask the commission for approval and would instead begin the official environmental assessment of the project.

Work on the Ruskin Dam is expected to be complete by 2018, roughly the same time that work should be finished on the John Hart system, if it proceeds.


First Nations

After hitting a roadblock last year, negotiations between BC Hydro and local First Nations are also proceeding well regarding the John Hart upgrade.

“We’re still meeting with them and moving ahead – it’s not finished,” said Chief Ralph Dick of the We Wai Kai Nation.

Last September, Chief Dick (who represents the reserves at Cape Mudge on Quadra Island and Quinsam in Campbell River) along with Chief Bob Pollard of the Wei Wai Kum (Campbell River) First Nation issued a statement that negotiations with BC Hydro were, “close to breaking down due to BC Hydro’s failure to table an offer in the ongoing negotiations to resolve aboriginal issues.”

When the John Hart Dam was built in the late 1940s, the native leaders said tracts of their territory were flooded and lost.

“The construction of the John Hart Dam flooded large segments of our traditional territory. This was done without our consent. It was done without a penny of compensation,” Dick said in the statement. “BC Hydro has been profiting from their own wrongful actions for 60 years. That has got to change. They have to decide whether they are serious about First Nations partnerships or whether they want to offer us beads and trinkets.”

Seven months later though, negotiations continue. According to Chief Dick, BC Hydro made on offer for an “impacts benefit agreement” and the chiefs responded with a counter offer. They’re now awaiting BC Hydro’s response. The two bands are also negotiating with BC Parks regarding Hydro’s application to remove some land from Elk Falls Provincial Park in order to provide right of ways and access to the new John Hart Generating Station.