The Squamish-Lillooet Regional District is moving ahead with a second public hearing on the Ashlu Creek Independent Power Project, despite concerns from SLRD staff.
"Its been a frustrating process for us," said the SLRDs Manager of Planning and Development Steven Olmstead, at the monthly board meeting on Thursday, Oct. 28. "There are some definite uncertainties here."
Despite those uncertainties, such as the impact on grizzly bears and fisheries, Olmstead said there is a need to bring a resolution to the project, which has been in the works in April 2003.
SRLD Board Chair Susan Gimse agreed.
"The last thing I want to do is see it go to a third public hearing," she said. "Its time to bring closure to it one way or another."
The project, proposed by Vancouver-based development company Ledcor, would see an IPP on the Ashlu Creek, the second largest tributary after the Elaho to the Squamish River.
The Ashlu power project is similar to other new IPPs in the Sea to Sky corridor, namely on the Rutherford Creek, Brandywine Creek, Furry Creek and Miller Creek. By removing a portion of the water from the creek and funnelling it down a steep pipe into a nearby powerhouse, IPPs use water to generate power. After passing through the powerhouse the water is diverted back into the creek downstream.
Though seemingly benign projects and billed as "green" power, IPPs have come under attack by corridor residents in recent years.
Since the first public hearing in May, Ledcor has worked to address concerns about the Ashlu project, particularly from local kayakers and nearby residents. At the same time, a group of residents and kayakers have remained staunchly opposed to the project.
In a detailed report to the SRLD board, Planning Consultant Susan Stratis highlighted staff concerns about the Ashlu project.
"It is noted that the Ashlu IPP project does not clearly meet all the goals and criteria for IPP developments as established in the SLRD IPP policy or the Official Community Plan," wrote Stratis in her report to the board.
"In particular, the value of a natural, undisturbed river system with an international reputation needs to be considered before a decision is made to alter both the water flow regime and the undisturbed qualities of the river. A managed river with pre-booked kayaking flows is a different resource than a natural river, both in reputation and in the experience it provides."
On the other hand, the Ashlu power project has also garnered a lot of support. First Nations in particular have supported the project, which will bring economic benefits and job training to their members.
Stratis reminded the board that at a July meeting they made a resolution to take the project bylaw to a second public hearing as soon as additional information was received and public meetings in the community had been held. Those steps are now complete.
"Although the significant public objections to the project are known, and staff remain highly concerned about the lack of overall river strategy for IPP developments, it is recommended that the project move to the next formal step," wrote Stratis in the report. "Following public hearing, the regional board can then make its decision to support the bylaw or reject the application "
The SLRD has set the second public hearing for Wednesday, Nov. 17 at the Sea to Sky Hotel in Squamish. The hearing will begin at 7 p.m.