Power project going ahead despite community opposition 

mc_hydro_poles.jpg

Construction of hydro poles recommences in coming weeks

Pemberton residents will not have the final say in the transmission of power from the Miller Creek hydroelectric project.

Instead, they have been told Tuesday night the various options have been considered and the final solution is to add more hydro poles at greater heights along the roads of their gateway community.

Residents were stunned to hear that the door to further discussions has been firmly shut by EPCOR, the Alberta power company at the helm of the project.

This so-called solution, was not part of the original deal, they said.

"We are not getting what we were promised," said Jack Reynolds, a retired Pemberton resident.

The option, presented by EPCOR representatives at an emotional community meeting on June 25, adds five additional poles to the existing hydro line, increasing the number of poles from 79 to 84, most along Pemberton Meadows Road.

Two-thirds of those poles will be four feet higher than, or will stay the same height as, the existing poles.

The remaining 20 poles will be between 8 to 12 feet higher than the originals.

This plan is better than the first option, which would have brought in far more poles, each 15 feet higher than the originals.

But it’s still not good enough for the local community, which thinks EPCOR has essentially reneged on the original deal.

"We don’t want these poles," said one enraged community member, summing up the collective feeling in the busy gymnasium.

Pemberton residents said the Miller Creek project was only agreed to under the assumption the power would move along the existing hydro lines.

Despite the vehemence of the opposition to the final design, EPCOR were firm in their decision to end consultation with the public.

"The next step is construction of the line," said David Morrow, vice president power development and acquisition at EPCOR, at the end of the meeting.

"We have a schedule here and we’re trying to run a business... We met the standard that you set for us."

Less than three weeks before Tuesday’s meeting residents were presented with the original proposal at the first community meeting.

It was a showdown between angry residents and an apologetic power company that promised to do better.

Residents demanded that EPCOR find an alternative solution, most hoping that solution would see the power lines put underground and out of sight.

The power company voluntarily stopped construction on the hydro poles while it scrambled to reach a viable solution that would work for both the community and the company.

Over the past three weeks, Morrow said they have weighed the pros and cons of all the options before them, running each through a set methodology.

"This was no an ad hoc process," he said.

Before presenting EPCOR’S final solution, Morrow ran through the five criteria:

• Community expectations;

• Environmental impacts;

• Technical requirements;

• Economic viability, and

• Safety standards.

Each was weighed differently.

"We need to use (community expectations), I suggest, as our primary filter," Morrow said.

He said the community expected a solution with minimal environmental impact, which would not ruin the aesthetics of the valley.

His solution to introduce only five more poles, most only four feet higher, addressed that primary expectation, he said.

But at the end of the meeting, Susan Gimse, director for Electoral Area C in the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District, in which the project is located, questioned how they weighed each criteria.

She suggested economic viability may have weighed in heavier that the community expectations.

The new proposal will cost $500,000 more than the original proposal but is much less than the $5.5 million quoted to run the cables underground.

The capital costs of the project are roughly $40 million. The underground route would add more than 10 per cent to their capital costs. This is just not feasible, said Morrow.

An underground route would also knock the project off schedule for about one year, causing more financial setbacks.

Pemberton Mayor Elinor Warner asked if the project could be considered a beautification project, in which case B.C. Hydro would pay for one-third of the costs for the lines to go underground.

She was told by B.C. Hydro community relations co-ordinator Barry Wilkinson that it could be considered for a beautification project.

But that would leave EPCOR or the village to come up with the remaining two-thirds of the capital costs.

Despite the public support for the underground route, EPCOR dismissed the option.

"If you really want to win the hearts of the community, you have to offer a little better," said Peter Pocklington, who owns two properties on Pemberton Meadows Road.

He threw out the idea of offering the community $1 million for what they see as the broken promises.

"You screwed up. You stirred up a hornet’s nest here."

The confusion over the transmission of power lines dates back more than three years, before EPCOR was even involved.

Even at that time, locals who were concerned about the impacts to the valley opposed the small hydroelectric project.

Miller Creek Power Ltd., the original proponent, promised in writing that the project would be "respectful of local scenic and lifestyle values."

Many residents had these documents in hand at Tuesday’s meeting.

The final plan presented to them is not in keeping with these promises, they said.

Documents from that time are ambiguous when describing how the power was going to get from the creek to the Pemberton substation.

Still, the fact remains that various provincial bodies have approved the project.

"These guys have an approved project," said Wilkinson, with B.C. Hydro.

"They have a right to have their power conveyed."

The anger and worry in the community centre was about more than just the Miller Creek project. It was concern over the future of Pemberton.

The Miller Creek is just the first of many potential run-of-river projects in the valley.

There are currently 56 applications before the province for projects in the area.

"Something needs to change with respect to the overall process," said Gimse.

At the SLRD board meeting on Monday night, recommendations were put forward to deal with upcoming small hydroelectric projects, including developing a framework with the proponents as well as a public consultation policy.

The board has hired a consultant to help them do this.

"We have deferred processing all applications before the board until we have some clarity to the process," she said.

At the end of the meeting Jack Reynolds, who is part of the newly formed Pemberton Valley Citizens for Responsible Development, offered some hope in a gloomy situation.

"If nothing happen on this project at least it’s going to be a lot more stringent on the next one," he said.

In the meantime construction of the new poles is scheduled to begin in the coming weeks.

The recent developments have pushed the project back eight weeks and EPCOR is trying to get on track to run power from Miller Creek by spring 2003.

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