The proposed Narrows Inlet Hydro project might be getting downsized from five to three separate power plants.
Last week the province announced it had accepted the proponent's request to temporarily suspend the environmental review period, which was due to end later this month.
In a letter to the B.C. Environmental Assessment Office (EAO), proponent Peter Schober said his company, Narrows Inlet Hydro Holding Corp., needs more time to adequately respond to fisheries and wildlife issues and asked the EAO to provide a list of outstanding items that have to be addressed before the timeline can resume.
"We estimate that, depending on the list of issues letter we receive from you, that we will be requesting reinstatement of the timeline in approximately 15 days," Schober wrote EAO project assessment director Garry Alexander on Jan. 25. "We further understand that in our submission to reinstate the timeline, we may request a change in our project description to remove two of the five projects (SS Creek and CC Creek), and their impacts, from consideration. This will not jeopardize reinstating the timeline."
Responding the same day, Alexander agreed to freeze the 180-day review timeline at day 157, saying he would restart it at day 156 after he was satisfied that all issues had been addressed.
"The purpose of the timeline modification is to provide further data and information to understand the potential for significant adverse effects with the proposed project," Alexander wrote.
In his attached list, Alexander identified nine information deficiencies and four "show stoppers," which included:
Increase in total suspended solids as a result of lake storage that would exceed provincial guidelines in the SS, CC and Ramona systems.
Proposed losses to fish habitat - as high as 85 per cent - that "significantly exceed those typically allowable by regulatory agencies."
Insufficient information on loss of grizzly bear habitat to assess specific impacts and reduce effects to below significant.
The effect of the proposed level of drawdown in CC, SS and Ramona lakes on small, high-elevation lake ecosystems is "not mitigable."
Interviewed Monday, Feb. 4, Schober said the proponents were still not sure if they would drop the two power plants from their application, noting that a sixth plant had been dropped from the original proposal in 2008 after discussions with the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
Dropping the two plants, Schober said, wouldn't preclude them from being added in the future, but "it precludes them from being done in the process we've outlined."
Schober said he couldn't predict whether the proponents would address the EAO's issues within about 15 days, as stated in his letter to Alexander, but pointed to the application's thousands of pages plus the comments received from 18 agencies.
"Now we're down to 13 comments and most of them get dropped by dropping CC and SS," he said. "This thing has been gone over with a fine-tooth comb. We're just soldiering on. All the concerns are being addressed and dealt with."
Despite its aim of generating clean power, the project has received a higher level of scrutiny than less eco-friendly resource-extraction industries, Schober added.
"There is certainly a lack of consistency on the rules between us and other industries," he said. "We are certainly under a microscope."
Sechelt Nation is also reviewing the project and is considering an equity stake in it, subject to approval by Band members.
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