Ryan River public comment period closes 

Website comments largely oppose project

The window for public comments on the Ryan River project has been closed.

The public comment phase, which lasted from Nov. 13 to Dec. 15, drew a myriad of comments about the 145-megawatt power plant, which proponents seek to build on the Ryan River north of Pemberton.

The comments came as part of a review process through the Environmental Assessment Office (EAO), a joint office between the provincial and federal governments that evaluates major projects for their potential impacts before allowing them to proceed.

The project is being proposed by Regional Power Inc., a Toronto-based subsidiary of Manulife Financial. The company seeks to burrow a 9.5-km tunnel through Sugarloaf Mountain and direct river flow to a power station on the other side.

From there the power will feed into a transmission line that ends at a station near the Rutherford Creek Power Plant and enter the Western Interconnection, a power grid that extends across the Rocky Mountains into Alberta and south to Baja California in Mexico.

Comments ranged anywhere from cautious support to outright opposition to the project — and like a recent public meeting, many comments came from people outside Pemberton.

Pemberton resident Rod MacLeod, who supports the project, expressed dismay in an online submission to the EAO about a “negative delegation” from the Western Canada Wilderness Committee (WCWC) that attended a public meeting on Dec. 4.

MacLeod wrote in his submission that he admires most of the causes the WCWC has promoted but does not understand the “negative approach” the group has taken to the Ryan River project.

Among other things, the WCWC believes that the project is slated for an “important grizzly bear recovery area” near Pemberton.

They say this despite the fact that the entire Sea to Sky region has been identified as a key grizzly bear recovery area as part of the Sea to Sky Land and Resources Management Plan (LRMP), a document that provides strategic direction for management of public lands in the area.

The WCWC also complains that the Ryan is one of 11 rivers in the area recommended to be off limits to private power development as part of the LRMP’s community consultation process. However the final LRMP does not veto the Ryan as a location for a power project.

The first comment submitted to the EAO website was a letter signed by six people, including Pemberton farmers Doug Helmer and Marie and Jack Ronayne. In the letter they wrote that “transmission lines” will “dominate” the Pemberton Valley if the project is allowed to go through.

That alone, they wrote, could impact valley tourism and turn the area into a construction site.

Sara Jennings, a Whistler resident and president of the Association of Whistler Area Residents for the Environment, wrote in an online submission that all independent power producing projects should be stopped until the province completes a study into which rivers are best suited for run-of-river projects.

She wrote that “not one project should be approved by the EAO” until this happens.

John Barr, a resident of the Pemberton Meadows area who claims to live in the vicinity of the Ryan, supports the project, saying that Regional Power Inc. could not do anything to “hurt the Ryan Valley or the wildlife in it.” He wrote that the project could not hurt grizzlies or salmon in the area.

David Carter, executive vice-president of Regional Power, said at the Dec. 4 meeting that he’s looking to save the Ryan, a river that’s been heavily impacted by nearby logging. He said Regional Power will establish a salmon run in the river that could, effectively, bring wildlife back to the area.

Regional Power Inc. received a UNESCO Blue Planet prize in 2005 for its work on the Sechelt Creek power project, where the company re-established a salmon run, according to a news release.

With the public comment period over, the next stage in the review process is preparing and submitting an application for a permit to start construction. Once submitted, it takes 30 days to evaluate the application and another 180 days to review and assess it. There will be another public comment period as part of this phase.

Once the application stage is over, the decision stage takes approximately 45 days. At that point provincial ministers can choose to either approve or abandon the project.

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