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Approvals pending for Innergex

EAO confirms some conditions of the Construction Environmental Management Plan not yet met

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While Innergex hopes to begin clearing backcountry later this month for the transmission line portion of the Upper Lillooet run-of-river power project, the company is still awaiting several final approvals from the British Columbian government.

The IPP sites — Boulder Creek and the Upper Lillooet River — are located in Squamish-Lillooet Regional District Area C, around 60km northwest of Pemberton.

A spokesman for the Environmental Assessment Office (EAO) in Victoria said in an email that the Construction Environmental Management Plan (CEMP) for the project and some other pre-construction Environmental Assessment Certificate conditions have not yet been completed. 

Bas Brusche, the spokesman for Innergex, confirmed this and added that the company has full permission to clear the land for the eventual building of the 75km transmission line from Boulder Creek and Upper Lillooet to the Tisdall Switching Station between Pemberton and Whistler.

"What we can do with the current paperwork in hand is clearing the area. What we cannot do yet is building, the clearing is part of the preparation for construction," he said.

"The clearing is always required, but before we can build things we have to have an approval of our construction environment management plan — and that is currently under discussion and in the making."

Stakeholders have been mulling over the decision by Innergex to begin clearing the land as soon as possible.

Johnny Mikes, a member of the Pemberton Valley Wildlife Association, said they had been waiting for a response from the deputy minister of Forests, Lands, and Natural Resource Operations since May on whether Innergex had satisfied the CEMP.

"We're not questioning the project going ahead. That decision has been made by government," Mikes said.

"But with the impacts the project would have on a variety of things, including wildlife, the devil is in the details. How access is managed will have impacts on wildlife, it will have impacts on grizzly bears, so we would want the opportunity to give expert local input in order to have the best plan possible."

Mikes said that grizzlies and increased traffic don't mix well and wanted to know how improved the roads up to the construction site would be.

Innergex received three other project permits two weeks ago from the British Columbian government, one for the transmission lines and two others for the Upper Lillooet Hydro Project and the Boulder Creek Hydro Project.

This comes after the SLRD voted against allowing temporary use permits for the construction of the plants at the board's monthly meeting on June 24. The six directors voted against the TUPs being granted, mainly over the absence of provincial land tenures to the plant sites, but also because of issues with community amenities and the potential impact on snowmobiling tenures.

Said Patricia Heintzman, chair of the SLRD: "I suspect that Innergex needs to have all their ducks in a row to bring it back (to the SLRD). One of the reasons the board rejected the TUP was because there were so many outstanding issues, big and small. Wanting all those things in order before considering the TUPs was one of the underlying reasons why the board rejected them in the first place. If the EA is not complete then I suggest that they complete it, I can't say what the board is going to do or not.

"There might be some things that the board might not be able to get over, I don't know — those are more philosophical issues rather than technical issues."

Susie Gimse, the director of Area C, said: "Local government does not have the authority to zone or regulate power projects. We lost that ability with Bill 30. Do I like it? No. But that is the reality...

"We do have the authority to work with them and mitigate concerns. In my mind, that's where my focus will be... With the TUP we have the ability to regulate a little bit."

She added that they encourage Innergex to get their permits and tenure in place.

"With regards to clearing the line, I hope they do that in a safe manner. Perhaps there's an opportunity for the community barn in Pemberton, for the Farmers Market. They are looking for a lot of timber to build it and Innergex will be doing a fair amount of logging," Gimse said.

Brusche said they are seeking to have the TUPs added to the agenda for the Aug. 26 meeting, subject to a vote by directors to allow this at the July 22 meetng.

Gwen Barlee of the Wilderness Committee has followed the debate of the Upper Lillooet IPP and has used Freedom of Information requests to break problems with other independent run-of-river projects. She said the SLRD's rejection of the TUPs had surprised her.

"The overriding question to me is what happens if that SLRD refuses that permit again? What does that mean under Bill 30? I didn't think municipalities had the ability to stop projects if they had concerns, so to me this feels like a test case," Barlee said.

When asked about the province stepping in to enforce Bill 30, Barlee replied: "The optics aren't very good on that."

An email from the environment ministry spelled out Innergex's requirements.

"A final CEMP must be approved by the Environmental Assessment Office and Ministry of Forests, Lands, and Natural Resource Operations at least 30 days before commencement of construction on the project," wrote David Karn of the Ministry of the Environment. Karn said that the table of conditions for the Upper Lillooet Hydro Project lists the points that must be completed or satisfied prior to construction.

Number one is the full CEMP, which includes access management, emergency response, clearing plans, waste management and 19 other conditions that concern everything from fish habitat to old growth forest management to grizzly bear management. Details of all the EAO conditions for the project can be found online at www.eao.gov.bc.ca.

Karn did not state how much work needed to be carried out by Innergex.

"Innergex is also required to submit a compliance report to the Environmental Assessment Office one month prior to substantially starting construction on any of the project facilities. The report will outline compliance with all certificate requirements," Karn wrote.

"Innergex must adhere to all requirements of their Environmental Assessment Certificate to remain in compliance.  The Environmental Assessment Office is in ongoing communication with Innergex and they are fully aware of their obligations."

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