Provincial information forces third public hearing on Ashlu IPP 

Some SLRD board members cry ‘sabotage’

New information from the provincial government has forced the regional district to call a third public hearing for the proposed independent power project on the Ashlu Creek.

The regional district’s decision was made after the province responded to a recent Land and Resource Management Plan recommendation to ban IPP’s on select waterways in the corridor.

In a letter to the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District, George Abbott, minister of sustainable resource management, said the province would not consider the list of prohibited streams, which includes the Ashlu Creek near Squamish, from IPP development.

"We certainly are not going to interfere with that (the SLRD’s decision) but on the other hand we have committed to share information with them so that they can make the best, most informed decisions they can on these projects," Abbott said on Monday.

The fact that the letter was faxed to regional district office in Pemberton less than 24 hours before the board was to consider a staff recommendation to reject the Ashlu IPP last Friday, caused some board members to suggest the province was sabotaging the process.

"It wasn’t by accident," said Susan Gimse, the former chair of the SLRD board, adding she received a personal phone call from the minister to tell her about the faxed letter.

But Abbott dismisses those allegations.

"We neither intend(ed) to sabotage nor compel a third public hearing," he said. "Those are decisions that certainly are local government decisions, not our decisions.

"I think it would be ironic, to say the least, that one would interpret that sharing of information as anything other than constructive."

Just as the SLRD received the provincial letter, another fax came in from project developers Ledcor revealing detailed information about their draft water licence with Land and Water B.C.

SLRD Administrator Paul Edgington said based on legal advice, he felt the new information should come to the board’s attention and ultimately be made available to the public. That decision forced the board to call a third public hearing.

"This is information that the public would want an opportunity to respond to," said Edgington.

SLRD Director Russ Oakley said it boggles his mind to think that the letters from the province and Ledcor were a mere coincidence.

"I’m more than just a little offended," he said, adding that the third public hearing will incur more staff time and resources as well as more time and energy from the board members.

"They’re (the province) not paying for it, we are," he said.

The Ashlu Creek IPP is a run of river project, which would generate hydroelectric power. It fits the qualifications of B.C. Hydro’s green power projects.

For more than two years Ledcor has been working on the project but has yet to satisfy critics, such as local kayakers and residents of the Upper Squamish Valley, who have been extremely vocal in their opposition.

The first public hearing on the project happened in May. A second hearing was called after the board asked for further information on outstanding issues. That hearing was held last month.

At Friday’s meeting the board was ready to vote on a staff recommendation which denied Ledcor the rezoning and essentially killed the project. Among the reasons for the recommendation were:

• the extent of community concern and objection to the project;

• the lack of an overall strategy for IPP developments in the district;

• the lack of conformance to the SLRD’s IPP policy regarding community support of these projects;

• the high value of the Ashlu as a tourism and recreation resource; and

• the potential or uncertain impacts on grizzly bear habitat and use.

Furthermore, staff recommended that no more IPPs be considered on select waterways until a regional strategy is developed. Those waterways include the Birkenhead River, Poole Creek, Elaho River, Sims Creek, Upper Squamish River (above Elaho Confluence), Sigurd Creek, Ryan River, Callaghan Creek, Sloquet Creek and Upper Soo River (above the current intake, including tributaries).

These are the same waterways that the Land and Resource Management Plan table named for no IPP development in their recommendations to the province, the same recommendation that the province recently dismissed.

Abbott explained why the province would not consider this list.

"There was no consensus from the table with respect to whether specific watercourses ought to be designated as no IPP zones for IPPs, so that was one issue," he said.

"Secondly, it’s my view and the view of Cabinet, that as a higher level plan that is a broad brush zoning exercise, which an LRMP is, it would be inappropriate to try to identify ‘no go’ zones for IPPs. That really is an operational plan decision as opposed to a higher level zoning decision for the area."

Stuart Smith, who was involved in developing the LRMP recommendations as the non-motorized recreation representative, was at Friday’s SLRD meeting to hear the outcome of the Ashlu Creek rezoning bylaw. Smith is also an outspoken opponent of the power project on the Ashlu in his role with the Whitewater Kayaking Association of B.C.

He kept his comments brief when asked about the province’s letter informing the SLRD it was disregarding that one LRMP recommendation.

"Disgusted would be one word I guess," he said, adding that he didn’t believe people bought into the LRMP process thinking there would be selective decision-making from the provincial government.

And so the Ashlu Creek IPP rezoning will go to a third public hearing, on Monday, Jan. 10 at 7 p.m. at the Sea to Sky Hotel in Squamish.

In order to prevent a situation like this arising again Squamish Mayor Ian Sutherland proposed that the board vote on the Ashlu the following day at 9 a.m.

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