Narrows Inlet report shocks directors

John Gleeson/Staff Writer / Staff writer
November 23, 2012 01:00 AM

Sunshine Coast Regional District (SCRD) directors are asking for answers after a report on the Narrows Inlet hydro project accused the proponent of filing irregular documents and blasted the province's public consultation process.

Sunshine Coast Regional District (SCRD) directors are asking for answers after a report on the Narrows Inlet hydro project accused the proponent of filing irregular documents and blasted the province's public consultation process.

Submitted by the Sunshine Coast Conservation Association (SCCA) to the B.C. environmental assessment office (EAO), the report contains "interesting and shocking information," chair Donna Shugar said during the SCRD's Nov. 15 planning and development committee meeting.

"The flaws at the core of the application are numerous: consultant documents altered by the proponent, documents and pages with no author or date attributed and widespread inconsistencies and contradictions," SCCA chair Jason Herz wrote EAO project lead Garry Alexander in the report's cover letter.

"These suggest at minimum a disregard, and at worst a contempt for the environmental assessment process, which has been publicly demonstrated by the dismissive 'us versus them' attitude of the proponents," Herz wrote.

The report cites a litany of flaws and omissions in the project data, and also includes a letter from a Manitoba biologist, Dan Soprovich of Bluestem Wildlife, who accuses the proponent of altering a document authored by Soprovich in 2007.

"Please recognize," Soprovich writes to Alexander, "that this unethical behaviour represents a direct attack on environmental assessment as practised in British Columbia, and calls into question the integrity of the environmental assessment and review process in your province."

Steve Olmstead, the SCRD's general manager of planning and development, described Soprovich's letter as "extremely concerning."

"When we are dealing with these major projects and the community has concerns we rely on the environmental assessment to have a degree of integrity. When we hear there will be mitigation, or impacts are minimal, we should be able to have confidence. This document calls that into question."

Pender Harbour/Egmont director Frank Mauro said he agreed the SCCA report exposed "a very cavalier attitude toward addressing concerns" raised during the environmental assessment.

"So I would like to see a response from the applicants before this goes forward," Mauro said.

Halfmoon Bay director Garry Nohr said the report created doubt in his mind about the project, so that "basically I would have to recheck everything that was presented to me."

One weakness in the EAO process, Nohr said, was evident during last month's open houses on the project, which included no formal presentations and relegated EAO staff to the role of "just sort of being tour guides."

The committee agreed with Nohr's suggestion that he write a letter to the EAO as board chair, pointing out the apparent discrepancies in the process and asking what the provincial government was doing to address the issue.

"I can see where everybody's coming from on this and think it needs to be cleared up," Nohr said.

Interviewed Wednesday, proponent Peter Schober said he was disappointed the SCRD did not ask him to attend the meeting to explain his side.

Schober said one management plan submitted to the EAO by the proponents had contained errors and was incorrectly attributed to Soprovich.

"That one plan didn't get caught through our quality control. We corrected the document, took those errors out of it and took his name off," Schober said. "Yes, it was a mistake. Does that mean the whole EAO process is flawed?"

Schober said the Manitoba biologist is the brother of his main business partner and he considered Soprovich's letter to be "a private matter that's been resolved with the EAO."

At the Nov. 15 SCRD meeting, Nohr also noted the proponent was working closely with the Sechelt Indian Band (SIB). "I hope SIB is checking this out very thoroughly," he said.

Chief Garry Feschuk announced last month that SIB was considering an equity stake in the Narrows Inlet project, pending its own environmental review and due diligence.

Contacted earlier this week, Feschuk said he was aware of the document issue.

"There have been some irregularities, and it was corrected," he said.

The project review has continued, and shíshálh community members will ultimately decide whether to buy in as an equity partner, Feschuk said.

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