You are hereStanding room only for Plutonic meeting

Standing room only for Plutonic meeting


By Friend of Bute - Posted on 04 February 2009

  Standing room only at Campbell River public meeting on Bute Inlet
It was standing room only to hear first-hand about Plutonic Power's plans for Bute Inlet Monday night. (CREDIT: Photo: Dan MacLennan)
 

A standing-room-only crowd of more than 400 people packed the Quinsam Centre hall Monday night; their numbers clearly demonstrating local interest and concern for Plutonic Power's massive Bute Inlet Hydro Electric Project; their comments reflecting another debate between jobs and the environment.

Vancouver-based Plutonic and its partner General Electric want to generate 1,027 megawatts - enough to power 300,000 homes they claim - by building 17 run-of-river generating plants on tributaries to the Homathco, Southgate and Orford Rivers.

The proposal is massive not only in scope but also in cost. Plutonic CEO Donald McInnes said it will cover 1,540 hectares (3,711 acres), requiring 440 kilometres (275 miles) of transmission line right-of-way as well as access roads. He estimated the total cost of the project in the $3.5 billion range.

After responding last November to BC Hydro's request for power proposals, Plutonic is now in the early stages of federal and provincial environmental assessment processes. Monday's meeting was the third after meetings last month in Powell River and Sechelt intended to help the Environmental Assessment Office set terms of reference for the assessment.

A majority of speakers voiced serious concerns about the proposal if not outright opposition to the concept. Strathcona Regional District Area C Director Jim Abram called for more meetings and voiced "deep concerns" about the proposal and the process. He said consultation with local government to date was "pathetic" and he called for more public meetings.

"How can you propose a 450-kilometre-long linear clear cut in an area that depends on the scenic corridor for the livelihood of its residents and the very existence of the creatures that live there," he said. "This is unimaginable."

The meeting also drew some of the now familiar opponents from the provincial stage. Rafe Mair from the Save Our Rivers Society said the process was backwards because the people had yet to vote on an energy policy. Perennial eco-warrior Vicky Husband, senior advisor to the Watershed Watch Salmon Society, said public meetings should have been offered in Victoria and Vancouver because this is a matter of provincial concern.

But most of the speakers were local.

"I'm not in favor of these projects," said Mike Gage, chair of the Campbell River Salmon Foundation. "You talk about rehabilitating logging roads. Your plans are to bring standards from 150-tonne capacity to 300-tonne. That's not rehabilitating, that's a major rebuild. Your standards are going to leave huge impacts on those valleys."

Others wanted to know how much water would be diverted for generation purposes and how far it would be diverted.

There were numerous concerns about visual impacts. McInnes said the water license would not permit export of water.

North Island MLA Claire Trevena called for a moratorium on independent power production (IPP) until there's an overview of its provincial impacts.

Fresh off the federal campaign trail, Quadra's Green Party candidate Philip Stone climbed on for the coming provincial vote, telling McInnes the project was anything but green.

But amid all the opposition ran a current of support from no small number in the audience, including First Nations members.

Daisy Hill, 72, of the Homalco First Nation, lectured the audience, saying the land involved had belonged to her people for generations.

"For a change, we thought that we were going to be able to get something for our land from this Plutonic Power because there were supposed to be jobs and other things happening for us," she said. "Our people are really in poverty and this was an opportunity for them to finally get out of being so poor and have jobs and training. We were very happy to hear something positive was going to happen for us.

"Then I come here and I hear all of these negative things from everybody. You people probably have had jobs all your lives, have your own homes, have everything that you need. We don't have anything. People, the majority are on welfare. It's sad to say that.

"Maybe there are some things that need to be explored so that they don't hurt the water and they don't hurt the animals. We want to make sure that doesn't happen because we value those things."

Mavis Kok said Plutonic's Toba Inlet project currently under construction has been good for the Klahoose First Nation.

"This has been a positive endeavor for us," she said. "We have over two dozen people attending college and university. That is the upside of it. There's always going to be pros and cons. There's always going to be somebody that disagrees, but from this standpoint I say thank you to Plutonic Power."

Lannie Keller said the public can't be the watchdog for the process because there's a flood of proposals.

She called for the province to call a moratorium. She said the Homalco have worked hard to protect the environment.

"It's a shame on our society that they have to consider trading their rivers and their environment for money so that their youth can go to school and so they can have jobs," she said. "It's shameful. We don't need to sell our rivers. We've used up our forests. Our salmon are gone. Let's not sell out our rivers."

McInnes acknowledged fish impacts were a big issue, particularly in the valley bottoms.

"Our general guiding principle on site selection is the avoidance of fish habitat," he said. "All of our powerhouse sites are above confirmed salmon habitat. The intake structures are way above any productive salmon habitat. Where possible, we're just looking for the environment where there isn't productive fish habitat at all."

He urged people to check out the company website at www.plutonic.ca for more information.

After the meeting, McInnes said he hadn't heard a lot of opposition to the proposal from the community.

"The majority of the people who are here tonight that were being vocal, they're never going to change their opinion," he said. "To a large extent, their opposition to the project has nothing to do with the project. It's the concept of public versus private ownership. Ideologically, a lot of people think we shouldn't have the right to develop and a lot of people think it's fine. But the people who think it's fine, they're not at this meeting. They're at home after a hard day at work, having dinner and seeing their kids."

He said many in the audience had "followed us to the other meetings so that they can stand up in a public forum and try to get people riled up."

How riled up people will become has yet be demonstrated, but that date could come later this year when Plutonic formally applies for an Environmental Assessment Certificate, possibly by September. That will trigger a larger public consultation process and more public meetings.

Recommendations to government from the environmental assessment processes aren't expected until sometime next year.

© Courier-Islander (Campbell River) 2009

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