A federal court judge has denied BC Hydro’s motion to rush a legal challenge against the crown corporation’s planned Site C Dam project. Hydro sought to expedite the hearing in May in order to keep to its planned construction start this summer – after receiving its provincial and federal environmental certificates late in 2014 – but that’s now up in the air.
According to a media advisory from the plaintiff, the Peace Valley Landowners’ Association (PVLA), the hearing will likely be scheduled for sometime this summer, depending on the court’s availability. Hydro argued that such a delay would cost the utility money, but the judge gave more weight to the plaintiff’s need for time to prepare its case.
Need, financial case for Site C challenged
The case is being brought by lawyer and ex-TD Bank Comptroller Rob Botterell on behalf of many of the landowners in the Peace Valley whose farms would be flooded or disrupted by the dam. Their challenge is built partly on the fact that the Liberal Government excluded the public’s independent energy watchdog, the BC Utilities Commission, from reviewing the project. The regulator was built precisely for this purpose: to examine proposed energy projects and plans based on their need and value to taxpayers and ratepayers.
This step, along with the provincial government’s decision to ignore the strong misgivings of the Joint Review Panel surrounding the need and financial case for the project constitute excessive political interference in the plaintiff’s view. Noted Botterell in a media advisory on the eve of the project’s approval last year:
[quote]Public infrastructure decisions of the size and scope of Site C…require the most thorough public scrutiny. It is simply unacceptable to make such decisions behind closed doors, release limited explanatory information, and conduct public policy by news conference sound bite. For the largest public infrastructure decision in provincial history we deserve better: open, transparent, and unfettered review of Site C’s economics by the independent and expert BC Utilities Commission.[/quote]
Government ignored its own rules
The PVLA’s case is also anchored in the fact that the provincial government violated the very rules that it laid out in the terms of reference for the Site C review. According to the PVLA:
[quote]The Ministers relied upon a referral package from the Environmental Assessment Office that declared several key Panel recommendations to be beyond the scope of the Panel’s mandate. The PVLA Petition is based on a thorough review of the documents which set the scope of the Panel’s mandate, and which reveal that the Panel was not only permitted but was expressly required to assess the very economic impacts of the Project that were the subject of the recommendations the Ministers failed to consider. (emphasis added)[/quote]
They argue the government was not permitted to simply set aside the panel’s concerns about project need and cost – which has already increased by nearly a billion dollars from the time of the hearings to the approval announcement, now weighing in at $9 Billion – by far the most expensive capital project in BC history.
Four challenges heard together
In the federal court’s recent ruling on the case, it also decreed that three other plaintiffs bringing similar cases – two Alberta First Nations and BC’s Treaty 8 First Nations – present their arguments at the same summer hearing, alongside the PVLA.
Meanwhile, two more legal challenges in BC provincial court have a joint preliminary hearing on February 25. Following that, the PVLA’s provincial judicial review petition will begin being heard on April 20, with a similar petition by BC’s Treaty 8 First Nations yet to be scheduled.
The PVLA has already raised close to $100,000 for its legal challenges of Site C Dam.