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SLRD cranks up Bill 30 opposition

Protest resolution presented at municipalities’ annual general meeting

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By Vivian Moreau

Although recently approved independent power projects in the Lower Lillooet valley and on the Ashlu River are moving ahead, Sea to Sky regional politicians are raising concerns over how independent projects are approved in B.C.

Douglas First Nation received provincial environmental certification two weeks ago, jumping another hurdle in their bid to begin construction on a $300-million project that will bring reliable electricity to the isolated communities of Douglas and Tipella at north Harrison Lake. Meanwhile Ledcor Group has just finished initial site clearing for the Ashlu River project near Squamish.

Douglas First Nation and Vancouver-based Cloudworks Energy’s six-project proposal was approved by BC Hydro in July, along with 39 other independent power projects around B.C.

But the Ashlu River’s run-of-river project, initially approved by BC Hydro in 2003, only achieved final approval after the province passed a controversial amendment to the Utilities Commission Act earlier this year that abolished local zoning authority over IPPs on Crown land. In response to strong public opposition, Squamish-Lillooet Regional District had rejected the rezoning application for the project, but the district’s autonomy was quashed with an amendment to the Utilities Commission Act, known as Bill 30,

The district has kept the issue in the forefront, recently launching a $30,000 public relations campaign and presenting a resolution at the Union of B.C. Municipalities’ annual general meeting next week that protests the provincial government’s passing Bill 30.

Whistler Mayor Ken Melamed sits on the SLRD board. He says that 33 local governments representing one million residents in B.C. are now calling on the province to set aside the amendment. Although 11 IPPs have been approved in the regional district, Melamed said there are 60 regional water licences that have been staked and local governments have no authority to stop any of them.

“We are enthusiastic about green power and IPPs where appropriate, but virtually every river in the district has been claimed and we don’t have any voice in that process,” he said.

Melamed pointed out that planning for independent power projects should be either included in a land resource management plan or have its own planning process that includes public input.

Whistler’s mayor also pointed out that that public consensus on not allowing power projects on the Ashlu River was largely ignored by the province.

“The SLRD said that in response to concerns of local residents they didn’t feel an IPP on the Ashlu was appropriate for a variety of reasons, environmental, spiritual and economic.”

Kelly Boychuk, Ledcor’s Ashlu project manager, discounts those concerns.

“The Mamquam project (in Squamish) has been up and running for a decade and you don’t hear anything about environmental impacts,” Boychuk said. “When you first go in and have to build it that’s the biggest impact, and once after a year or two shrubs and trees start to grow up and it’s back to normal.”

The resolution to be presented at the Union of B.C. Municipalities’ annual general meeting in Victoria cites a 2004 memorandum of understanding between the province and the municipalities that agreed to a framework of mutual consultation and cooperation in establishing renewable energy sources. The resolution presented by the SLRD points out the inconsistencies Bill 30 imposes on local governments.

The provincial minister responsible feels differently.

“It doesn’t take away the voice of the public,” said Richard Neufeld. “What it does is put the development of independent power producers across the province all on the same footing rather than going to different regional districts and (encountering) different zoning regulations.”

Neufeld said if B.C. Hydro had developed the run-of-river projects they would not have been bound by local zoning. He noted that mining and forestry have similar autonomy on Crown land.

“It’s the province that has the final decision when it comes to Crown land,” Neufeld said.

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