Privately saving Ryan? 

Regional Power holds up its Sechelt Creek project as something good it can bring to the Ryan River



David Carter doesn't make things easy on himself.

The vice-president of Regional Power Inc. faces a gargantuan task trying to develop run-of-river electricity in British Columbia. On top of provincial approvals and environmental assessments he has to contend with a swarm of opposition as he looks to develop a 145 MW hydro plant on the Ryan River near Pemberton.

Scores of protesters flooded the gym at the old Pemberton Community Centre for a public meeting on the project last December. They held pictures of fish and grizzlies, species they fear the project threatens, and scoffed as Carter made impassioned appeals to the community.

"We want to demonstrate to you that we can bring fish back in large numbers," he told a buzzing audience of about 200. "We look at the Ryan River, we see high quality water, we see good nutrients, we see an impacted watershed. With the fish, you bring back the grizzlies; with the grizzlies, you bring back the eagles."

He had more to say before an audience member with a videocamera cut him off.

Despite the opposition that persists against the Ryan project, Carter is determined to convince people it's a good thing for the heavily-logged watershed.

It's for this reason that Carter has invited Pique 's Pemberton correspondent to check out Regional Power's generating station on Sechelt Creek. He's bringing me here on company expense to see a project that won a 2005 UNESCO/IHA Blue Planet Prize for building a spawning channel that brought fish back to the area. It's an amenity they hope to bring to the Ryan project, if it ever gets built.

Carter and I meet at a dock on Porpoise Bay, just outside the District of Sechelt. I've come alongside Nigel Protter, a Pemberton-based consultant who's working with Regional Power to develop the Ryan project. Sid Quinn, resource manager of the Sechelt First Nation, joins us for the trip, as do the two operators of the power facility.

Getting to the station requires a 45-minute boat trip up Salmon Inlet, passing a hatchery and both oyster and fish farms along the way. At the start of the trip I wonder what the difference is between fish farms and a spawning channel, as do some who have concerns about the Ryan project.

Regional Power has chosen the Sechelt Creek location for its project because it's a heavily industrialized area. The project is sited near a former logging camp run by the Canfor Corporation and the impact is clear, though probably not nearly as much as it was in the past.

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