Site C completion cost could soar further with threat of First Nations lawsuit

The cost of British Columbia’s Site C project could balloon even further, per lawsuits planned by two First Nations groups should the province decide to complete the controversial hydropower plant.

Speaking during a recent meeting with provincial officials and the B.C. Utilities Commission, representatives from the West Moberly and Prophet River First Nations said they would seek damages worth US$780 million if the government gives the 1,100 MW facility the go-ahead.

That amount is based on an inflation-adjusted $176 million settlement awarded by the government to First Nations groups for land used for the James Bay hydropower plant in the mid-1970s.

Past problems
Last week’s declaration by the West Moberly and Prophet River First Nations is only the latest point of contention between the groups and British Columbia government.

In January, Canada’s Federal Court of Appeals dismissed a lawsuit that would have prevented work on Site C from advancing, saying the court could not determine whether the groups’ treaty rights were violated as claimed.

The Prophet River and West Moberly bands were also amongst four that filed suit against Site C in November 2014 as part of the Treaty 8 Tribal Association. Another of the groups represented in the suit, the McLeod Lake Indian Band, dropped out of the complaint after signing an agreement for “economic development opportunities and other benefits” with BC Hydro in July.

Site C’s developer, BC Hydro, has maintained that it has consulted with First Nations throughout the plant’s development, though that claim was disputed by West Moberly Chief Roland Willson during the groups’ most recent meetings.

“Right from the very beginning, we tried to discuss alternatives, solutions to this,” Willson said. “That’s part of what the consultation record should be about. When they come to us and say, ‘We’re interested in building Site C, what do you think?’ — but that was never the case. The came to us and said, ‘We are building Site C. Here’s your compensation for it, now get out of the way.'”

Still, the First Nations leaders said they are receptive to further discussion with the government and developers, should the parties be willing to meet.

“We never wanted it to get to this stage,” Willson said. “We never wanted to be in court.”

To Site C or not Site C: That is the question
Though conservative estimates to complete Site C currently put the project’s price at more than $9 billion, those costs did not account for any additional levied by a First Nations lawsuit.

Still, none of the options detailed in the B.C. Utilities Commission’s recently released report on Site C paint a clear future on the plant’s future.

Opponents of the plan might note, however, that Site C has been a target of intense scrutiny from Premier John Horgan and the New Democratic Party took control of the province’s government in July.

For a full archive of HydroWorld.com’s past reporting on Site C, visit here.

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Michael Harris formerly was Editor for HydroWorld.com.

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