Sunday, February 8, 2009

Standing room only for Plutonic meeting

Dan MacLennan
Wednesday, February 04, 2009

It was standing room only to hear first-hand about Plutonic Power's plans
for Bute Inlet Monday
CREDIT: Photo: Dan MacLennan
It was standing room only to hear first-hand about Plutonic Power's
plans for Bute Inlet Monday night.

A standing-room-only crowd of more than 400 people packed the Quinsam Centre
hall Monday night; their numbers clearly demonstrating local interest and
concern for Plutonic Power's massive Bute Inlet Hydro Electric Project;
their comments reflecting another debate between jobs and the environment.

Vancouver-based Plutonic and its partner General Electric want to generate
1,027 megawatts - enough to power 300,000 homes they claim - by building 17
run-of-river generating plants on tributaries to the Homathco, Southgate and
Orford Rivers.

The proposal is massive not only in scope but also in cost. Plutonic CEO
Donald McInnes said it will cover 1,540 hectares (3,711 acres), requiring
440 kilometres (275 miles) of transmission line right-of-way as well as
access roads. He estimated the total cost of the project in the $3.5 billion

After responding last November to BC Hydro's request for power proposals,
Plutonic is now in the early stages of federal and provincial environmental
assessment processes. Monday's meeting was the third after meetings last
month in Powell River and Sechelt intended to help the Environmental
Assessment Office set terms of reference for the assessment.

A majority of speakers voiced serious concerns about the proposal if not
outright opposition to the concept. Strathcona Regional District Area C
Director Jim Abram called for more meetings and voiced "deep concerns"
about the proposal and the process. He said consultation with local
government to date was "pathetic" and he called for more public meetings.

"How can you propose a 450-kilometre-long linear clear cut in an area that
depends on the scenic corridor for the livelihood of its residents and the
very existence of the creatures that live there," he said. "This is

The meeting also drew some of the now familiar opponents from the provincial
stage. Rafe Mair from the Save Our Rivers Society said the process was
backwards because the people had yet to vote on an energy policy. Perennial
eco-warrior Vicky Husband, senior advisor to the Watershed Watch Salmon
Society, said public meetings should have been offered in Victoria and
Vancouver because this is a matter of provincial concern.

But most of the speakers were local.

"I'm not in favor of these projects," said Mike Gage, chair of the Campbell
River Salmon Foundation. "You talk about rehabilitating logging roads. Your
plans are to bring standards from 150-tonne capacity to 300-tonne. That's
not rehabilitating, that's a major rebuild. Your standards are going to
leave huge impacts on those valleys."

Others wanted to know how much water would be diverted for generation
purposes and how far it would be diverted.

There were numerous concerns about visual impacts. McInnes said the water
license would not permit export of water.

North Island MLA Claire Trevena called for a moratorium on independent power
production (IPP) until there's an overview of its provincial impacts.

Fresh off the federal campaign trail, Quadra's Green Party candidate Philip
Stone climbed on for the coming provincial vote, telling McInnes the project
was anything but green.

But amid all the opposition ran a current of support from no small number in
the audience, including First Nations members.

Daisy Hill, 72, of the Homalco First Nation, lectured the audience, saying
the land involved had belonged to her people for generations.

"For a change, we thought that we were going to be able to get something for
our land from this Plutonic Power because there were supposed to be jobs and
other things happening for us," she said. "Our people are really in poverty
and this was an opportunity for them to finally get out of being so poor and
have jobs and training. We were very happy to hear something positive was
going to happen for us.

"Then I come here and I hear all of these negative things from everybody.
You people probably have had jobs all your lives, have your own homes, have
everything that you need. We don't have anything.
People, the majority are on welfare. It's sad to say that.

"Maybe there are some things that need to be explored so that they don't
hurt the water and they don't hurt the animals. We want to make sure that
doesn't happen because we value those things."

Mavis Kok said Plutonic's Toba Inlet project currently under construction
has been good for the Klahoose First Nation.

"This has been a positive endeavor for us," she said. "We have over two
dozen people attending college and university. That is the upside of it.
There's always going to be pros and cons. There's always going to be
somebody that disagrees, but from this standpoint I say thank you to
Plutonic Power."

Lannie Keller said the public can't be the watchdog for the process because
there's a flood of proposals.

She called for the province to call a moratorium. She said the Homalco have
worked hard to protect the environment.

"It's a shame on our society that they have to consider trading their rivers
and their environment for money so that their youth can go to school and so
they can have jobs," she said. "It's shameful. We don't need to sell our
rivers. We've used up our forests. Our salmon are gone.
Let's not sell out our rivers."

McInnes acknowledged fish impacts were a big issue, particularly in the
valley bottoms.

"Our general guiding principle on site selection is the avoidance of fish
habitat," he said. "All of our powerhouse sites are above confirmed salmon
habitat. The intake structures are way above any productive salmon habitat.
Where possible, we're just looking for the environment where there isn't
productive fish habitat at all."

He urged people to check out the company website at for more

After the meeting, McInnes said he hadn't heard a lot of opposition to the
proposal from the community.

"The majority of the people who are here tonight that were being vocal,
they're never going to change their opinion," he said. "To a large extent,
their opposition to the project has nothing to do with the project. It's the
concept of public versus private ownership.
Ideologically, a lot of people think we shouldn't have the right to develop
and a lot of people think it's fine. But the people who think it's fine,
they're not at this meeting. They're at home after a hard day at work,
having dinner and seeing their kids."

He said many in the audience had "followed us to the other meetings so that
they can stand up in a public forum and try to get people riled up."

How riled up people will become has yet be demonstrated, but that date could
come later this year when Plutonic formally applies for an Environmental
Assessment Certificate, possibly by September. That will trigger a larger
public consultation process and more public meetings.

Recommendations to government from the environmental assessment processes
aren't expected until sometime next year.

© Courier-Islander (Campbell River) 2009

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