The Sechelt Indian Band (SIB) will consider taking an equity position in the Narrows Inlet hydro project after some outstanding issues are addressed, Chief Garry Feschuk told Coast Reporter.
“We’re getting close to wrapping up an agreement with them, and at that time our community will decide whether we want to go in as an equity partner,” Feschuk said Oct. 12 at Egmont Hall during the first of two open houses last weekend for the proposed hydro project.
Feschuk said the project has to satisfy SIB members in terms of “the fisheries values, the wildlife values and the environmental values — the footprint that’s going to happen.”
As part of its due diligence, the Band has retained an environmental consultant and a biologist to review the voluminous studies and reports on the project, he said.
“We’re totally involved in the environmental assessment process,” Feschuk added.
He said two senior staff are also working on the file, including one from SIB’s rights and titles department.
“We want the proponents to recognize that we have rights and titles to the area. That’s a major focus point of moving forward,” Feschuk said.
Project proponent Peter Schober said it was still to be determined what size of equity the Band would hold — “but they’re not talking a small piece,” he added.
The project will cost between $150 million and $200 million to build, Schober said.
Narrows Inlet Hydro Holding Corp. — a partnership that includes Schober’s Renewable Power Corp. (RPC) — is proposing to build five small hydroelectric plants, three on unnamed creeks in the Tzoonie River Valley and two on Ramona Creek. They would have a combined capacity of about 44 megawatts at peak water flow times.
The project would tie into the transmission line already running from RPC’s Tyson Creek generating plant, which was shut down for four months in 2010 after sediment entered the water and created concerns about turbidity levels for fish.
Feschuk said the sediment discharge was studied in depth by SIB’s biologist to ensure there were no adverse impacts on fish habitat.
“We were concerned about the sediment issue, but I think those issues have been addressed,” he said.
More than 40 people attended the Egmont open house and some clearly felt their issues were not being addressed.
Ken Holowanky said he and other lot owners along Narrows Inlet will be directly affected.
“We need someone to tell us what the benefits are. What’s the reason to take over the Coast’s last untouched fiord?” Holowanky said, adding that the lot owners are “not NIMBYish” as “this is our front yard.”
“We’re absolutely opposed to it,” said Bob Price, another lot owner.
“We’re frustrated that we can’t get out to people the level of industrialization that is going to happen,” Holowanky said. “This is devastating to this area and it’s bringing out a large rift on the Sunshine Coast.”
Holowanky and others who attended the Egmont open house complained the format did not include a question period or provide a venue for the public to air concerns.
Schober said those opportunities were provided during the last round of open houses about two years ago, while the format for last weekend’s meetings was decided by the B.C. Environmental Assessment Office (EAO).
“This time the meetings are to do with the EAO and not with us,” he said.
Schober said he is familiar with the concerns expressed by Holowanky and two other lot owners.
“Where we are is well above their property,” he said. “They will not even know it’s there.”
Sunshine Coast Conservation Association chair Jason Herz said his group has historically supported independent power projects, but opposes this one.
“The impacts on Narrows Inlet — for recreation, for visual, for animals — we feel are too high,” Herz said. “I would say we oppose this cluster.”
Of particular concern, he said, is the impact on fish values and on goat populations.
Wilderness Committee national director Joe Foy also blasted the proposal, saying the applicant admitted in the project’s executive summary that there are “many unknowns regarding impacts on fish.”
Schober called that charge unfair.
The research conducted for the project fills 20 three-inch binders and numbers more than 10,000 pages, “so there’s bound to be some unknowns,” given the scope of the studies, Schober said.
Schober estimates the volume of research is “probably 10 times more than what has ever been done” for similar projects. While most proponents spend several hundred thousands on studies, “we’re at over $6 million,” he said.
With 106 permanent jobs projected, Feschuk said the job creation component is a major draw for SIB.
“A lot of our young people in the community are interested in working on this project,” he said. “We’ve gained an experienced workforce from other projects and they know it’ll be there for a number of years.”
The project could also generate revenue to pay for community services, he said.
The closing submission date for the environmental assessment is Oct. 27 and Schober said he expects a decision from EAO by the end of February.
Optimistically, he said, he’s hoping to see construction on the project starts next year.