Association soured on Rutherford kayak park 

Kayakers concerned new owners are reneging on agreement

click to enlarge No Flow The dry bed of the kayak park lies down stream of the power plant, adjacent to the Rutherford Creek in between Whistler and Pemberton. Photo by Bob Barnett.
  • No Flow The dry bed of the kayak park lies down stream of the power plant, adjacent to the Rutherford Creek in between Whistler and Pemberton. Photo by Bob Barnett.

The Rutherford Creek Power Project has been pumping out electricity since May of 2004, but kayakers have yet to use the whitewater practice facility they were promised as compensation for the loss of a popular recreation area.

The basic practice kayak channel has been completed, but according to Stuart Smith of the Whitewater Kayaking Association of B.C. (WKABC) — which signed an agreement with the original developers of the Rutherford Creek run-of-river power project — the facility does not meet their needs or specifications. Further, they expected that the facility would be handed over to the association when the power project was complete, but the channel remains in the hands of the power company.

“It’s not running, and we’re not happy with it,” Smith said. “Basically the developer that owns the project now, Innergex, bought the project from Cloudworks Energy. Cloudworks was really easy to deal with and we have a signed agreement with them that Innergex inherited, but they’ve decided to ignore us for the past year.”

The practice facility does not follow the designs that were originally produced by the WKABC, which Smith said is understandable given the physical restraints of the landscape and the costs. However, they have come up with several design compromises that the new owners have agreed to implement that would still accomplish the WKABC’s goals.

“So far they have not done that, or won’t do it, and they haven’t turned it over to us,” he said.

Instead, Smith says Innergex has decided to turn the facility into a kayak slalom course, and has allied itself with other kayakers that are in favour of that approach.

“They have put in poles and wires to hang the slalom posts, but they have not fixed any of the things we’ve identified as safety hazards. They’ve gone ahead and rearranged the course, and basically done some things that were not approved by us or wanted by us,” said Smith.

“It’s gotten pretty sour at this point, and it looks like it may be heading to legal hands.”

The facility that the WKABC envisioned would be a beginner to intermediate water course with a number of man-made features that simulate actual whitewater kayaking. A slalom course is somewhat different and would likely only be accessible by more advanced kayakers.

Although Smith says changing the project to reflect the WKABC’s wishes would add costs to the developer, he says the fact that the facility is still closed after three years has allowed Innergex to profit. By not diverting any of the creek water into the kayak park they have been able to divert more water into power generation.

Smith says he would prefer not to turn the issue over to lawyers, but says the association may have no choice unless they can come to an agreement with Innergex over the layout of the park and a date when the handover will take place. So far Smith says he’s not encouraged, but hopes that they will be able to have discussions over the winter.

Smith says it sets an important precedent for dealing with energy companies. There are numerous other independent power projects proposed for on creeks used by kayakers.

“The Ashlu (power project) went ahead against the wishes of the community and regional district, the Kettle River project is moving against the wishes of that community, and it seems there is no opportunity for the public to have any meaningful opposition to these projects,” said Smith. “The province wants to see these projects go ahead, they’re revenue generators for the province and they want the electricity — either for here or to sell it, and they’re moving on them as fast as they can.

“From all this we have this one agreement for the Rutherford that would compensate the kayakers, but it’s not what we agreed on.”

Pique made inquiries of Innergex at their offices in Quebec but there was no reply as of press time.

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