Squamish Nation has a lot to lose if the regional district quashes plans for an independent power project on the Ashlu Creek next week.
Under a partnership with the projects developers, Squamish Nation stands to gain not only employment opportunities for its members during construction and a portion of the revenues once the project is up and running, but they will ultimately own the project outright in 40 years time. These benefits were solidified in a signed agreement between Ledcor and Squamish Nation earlier this year.
"(Ledcor has) seen the importance to Squamish of actually acquiring the 100 per cent interest in the project, albeit its a way down the road," said Squamish Nation Chief Gibby Jacob.
"Its going to allow the future generations of my community the opportunity to ensure that theres something bankable down the road. So its a significant thing for us."
The proposed IPP, which meets B.C. Hydros criteria for a green power project, is located on the Ashlu Creek, about 35 kilometres north-west of Squamish, near a residential community in the Upper Squamish Valley.
The majority of valley residents oppose the project, in part because they do not want to see their valley disturbed. They say they have a lot to lose, too, if the project goes ahead, namely the loss of their pristine, quiet community.
Tom Rankin, a member of the Upper Squamish Valley Rural Association, fighting against the development, said they want the provincial government to develop an overall plan and stop dealing with IPPs on a stream by stream basis.
The negotiations with First Nations he added are just part and parcel of every IPP deal. The Ashlu is not unique in this way.
Kayakers also stand to lose if the project is approved. The very nature of run-of-river projects means the water flows will be altered should the IPP go ahead. The Ashlu is one of the top kayaking streams in the area.
For Chief Jacob though the Ashlu project and its benefits mark "the dawn of a new era" for Squamish Nation. They are negotiating or have already worked out deals for a number of IPPs in the area, among them the projects on Brandywine and Furry Creeks, and McNair Creek on the Sunshine Coast.
They were also working out a deal for benefits from Ledcors Fitzsimmons Creek project in Whistler but talks have stalled as the project sits in limbo. It may not be financially feasible for Ledcor to move ahead with the Fitzsimmons IPP due to conflicts with construction of the Olympic Sliding Centre on Blackcomb Mountain.
Of all the negotiations to date, the most lucrative deal for Squamish Nation is on the Ashlu Creek, which is also the biggest IPP run-of-river projects.
Jacob also spoke about the opportunity to get members trained on the job site as carpenters, electricians, surveyors and labourers, among other things.
There are 3,400 members of Squamish Nation, with roughly half under the age of 25. Thats going to double in the next 15 to 25 years.
"So the need to get our people trained and break the cycle of dependency is big for our council," said Jacob, adding that if they arent trained then there will be more pressure on the social safety programs. A growing population will only exacerbate that situation.
"We need to develop," he said. "We need to become net contributors, not only to our regional economy but right through to the federal economy. Weve known this for a long time, thats why were trying to get out of the box, which is a reserve."
In the meantime several community stakeholders who were involved in the Sea to Sky Land and Resource Management Plan have submitted a series of draft resolutions to the provincial government, specifically addressing IPPs. They agreed that several streams should not be considered for the development of energy projects. Among the 11 streams they recommended not be used for run-of-river projects was Ashlu Creek.
The time to lobby the regional district however is now over. The nine-member board, made up of representatives from Whistler, Squamish, Pemberton and Lillooet as well as the regional areas, is scheduled to decide the Ashlu IPPs fate at the Friday, Dec. 17 meeting.