News » Whistler

First Nations, kayakers have concerns with Brandywine power proposal



After three years and almost half a million dollars, David Kiess has to be optimistic that his dream for a hydroelectric project on Brandywine Creek will be approved.

In fact, he is hoping that his company, Pacific Northwest Energy Corp. (PNEC), will be breaking ground there next spring and producing power by Dec. 31, 2002. But despite the amount of time and money invested into the project, the future of Brandywine Creek is still uncertain.

"It's been like moving through molasses. It's been a very slow process," said Kiess at a recent public information meeting at municipal hall where only a handful of people dropped by to learn more about the hydroelectric project.

This $9 million project will see a weir installed in the creek that will divert the natural flow of water through a 4.5 kilometre pipe into a generating station.

Early estimates show the station will produce about seven megawatts of electricity – every megawatt can provide enough electricity for almost 1,000 homes on an ongoing basis, according to Kiess.

"The best thing is that it's totally non-polluting. There are no emissions and it's renewable. It's a constant source and it's low environmental impact," he said.

There are other stakeholders though who are not convinced that Brandywine Creek should follow in the footsteps of Miller Creek and Rutherford Creek and be slated for small hydroelectric development.

"The paddling communities are the ones that are seriously impacted," said Stuart Smith, the chair of leadership and coaching for the Whitewater Kayaking Association of B.C.

Smith goes on to explain that if certain water levels are maintained in the creek then the paddlers would still be able to enjoy them.

"It's all about size. If they chose to put in a smaller (project) that doesn't use as much water there will be less of an impact on paddlers and they will be less concerned."

Smith said that part of the problem is the misunderstandings that arise as a result of the hydroelectric proponents and paddlers not having discussions in the early development stages of the project.

Another group that isn't backing the project is the area’s First Nations who say the proposed project lies in traditional territories of the Squamish and Lil'wat Nations.

In a letter to the Minister of the Environment, Land and Parks, the chiefs of both nations state that the "Pacific Northwest Energy Corporation has not made reasonable efforts to address or accommodate outstanding issues of aboriginal rights and title."

The two nations are currently opposing the certification of the project and the provision of a water licence.

The Brandywine project is one of about 200 so-called "green energy" applications that have been submitted to the province for consideration.

A large number of applications are in the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District.

"There won't be any paddling here," said Smith. "It's the scale of the stuff that is going to be the problem."

The SLRD is prime land for these types of projects because of the mountainous terrain, the high velocities in the run off period, and the proximity to existing power lines.

Brandywine Creek in particular has other environmental benefits that make it attractive for a small hydroelectric project.

An environmental study showed that there were no fish in the upper part of the creek – the section that would be used to divert the water for the project – because of Brandywine Falls.

The Olympic Tailed Frog however, is believed to live in that part of the creek but PNEC has agreed to keep flows high enough in order to maintain their habitat values.

The project is slated to go before a water licence adjudication at the beginning of December. The proposal is also currently before the municipality to go through the rezoning process.

In the original proposal, the site was entirely out of municipal boundaries. After talks with the municipality however, it was decided that the intake area would remain on the outskirts and the generating plant would be within the boundaries. This made room for a bigger generating plant that could accommodate a higher flow of water, thus producing more energy.

"We like that it's green energy and that it can supply energy without producing any greenhouse gases," said Bob MacPherson, a senior planner with the municipality.

Council has since unanimously endorsed the continuation of the review process.

"We would hope that people would realize the environmental benefits of these projects. It fits with the environmental mandate of the municipality and the province as a whole," said Kiess.

This type of green energy is consistent with B.C. Hydro’s goal to see 10 per cent of its domestic energy requirements coming from green energy technologies like the one proposed at Brandywine.

While paddlers like Smith can recognize the benefits of green energy, they say it is coming at a cost to recreational habits of residents and visitors.

"They're using a public resource and they should have to contribute something back to the community," said Smith.