Nohr takes back criticism of Narrows Inlet project

John Gleeson/Staff Writer / Staff writer
January 4, 2013 01:00 AM

Component locations for the Narrows Inlet hydro project, showing proposed and existing infrastructure.

The chair of the Sunshine Coast Regional District (SCRD) said he failed to take into account "the other side of the story" when he responded last month to a report that was highly critical of the Narrows Inlet hydro project.

"In the future, I feel that we should look at both sides of every story that comes past us," Halfmoon Bay director Garry Nohr said during the SCRD's planning and development committee meeting on Dec. 20.

On Nov. 15, the committee received a report from the Sunshine Coast Conservation Association (SCCA) that accused the proponent of filing irregular documents and blasted the province's public consultation process. The report was submitted to the B.C. environmental assessment office (EAO) in October.

At the time, 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."

At the Dec. 20 meeting, Nohr said he was later approached by the Sechelt Indian Band, which is considering an equity stake in the project, and by one of the proponents, asking why there had been no discussion with them prior to the report appearing on the agenda during an open committee meeting.

Nohr said he checked with chief administrative officer John France on the process.

"What I since found out was it went onto the agenda and I just assumed that our planning department would look at the other side of the story. I've since found out that that's my job. That's a learning thing for me. I didn't know that before," he said.

The SCCA report was the subject of a 13-page rebuttal by Bern Niamir, an engineer and principal in Narrows Inlet Hydro Holding Corp. Addressed to SCCA chair Jason Herz and copied to the SCRD, Coast Reporter and shíshálh (Sechelt) Nation, Niamir's letter responds to the "serious and counterfactual allegations" in the SCCA report.

Admitting to an oversight on a bear management plan that was quickly corrected, Niamir noted the plan was not a requirement of the environmental assessment.

"Such a plan is to be included as a section in our environmental monitoring plan for construction, and final copy is not due until after the application successfully passes certification," Niamir wrote. "SCCA has exploited this simple oversight without apprising themselves of the facts of the matter."

The application, he added, is to his knowledge "the most comprehensive and detailed application ever submitted to the EAO in the green and renewable energy category. It consists of over 110 documents, 10,500 pages of reports, plans, effects assessments and appendices, 13 DVDs, and over 1,000 coloured maps, diagrams and figures."

Since the bear management plan was not a "consultant document," Niamir asked Herz to forward him the consultant documents the group claims were altered, "as this has not taken place," he wrote.

SCCA also criticized the application for containing "documents and pages with no author or date attributed," but Niamir pointed out those allegations were based on "only a partial reading of the application," since the information was included.

Against SCCA's claims of "widespread inconsistencies and contradictions," Niamir noted that minor inconsistencies are not unusual for "a document as complex, comprehensive and detailed as we have produced."

Niamir also said the facts do not support SCCA's assertion that the proponent acted with "at minimum a disregard and at worst a contempt for the environmental assessment process."

On the contrary, Niamir wrote, the application has met the province's strict information requirements and includes 230 pages in the appendix "detailing more than 2,000 interactions and communications with the general public, stakeholders and regulators over a span of five years."

While Niamir's rebuttal was not discussed at the Dec. 20 committee meeting, directors did recommend the board approve a report by senior planner David Rafael and forward it to the EAO as the SCRD's comments on the Narrows Inlet project.

The highlighted comments include the need for noise, visual and potable water issues to be resolved with property owners in the Ramona Creek area.

On the drinking water issue, the report urges the EAO to ensure the applicant works with the community to mitigate the impact, or secure an alternative water source, before granting approval to the Ramona component of the project.

Nohr spoke strongly in support of the recommendation.

"Whatever needs to be done to protect the drinking water for the Ramona area, I think is crucial," he said.

Rafael's report also calls for the EAO to establish "a robust monitoring program" that includes ongoing public disclosure of the results.

"To avoid being overwhelmed with paper, the applicant should provide a website where such reports are posted for review. This will allow the public to see what is taking place on the ground," Rafael wrote.

The Narrows Inlet project was included in BC Hydro's 2008 call for power and received an energy purchasing agreement in March 2010.

The project would see the construction of five small hydroelectric plants, three on unnamed creeks in the Tzoonie River valley and two on Ramona Creek, with a combined generating capacity of about 44 megawatts at peak water flow times.

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