Stop Plutonic Meeting on Quadra Draws Packed House

March 5, 2009

From the Campbell River Courier-Islander

Another Packed House for Plutonic

By  Dan MacLennan, Courier-Islander

Plutonic Power was a no-show and so were supporters of its massive Bute Inlet hydro-electric proposal at a packed public meeting on Quadra Island Sunday.

And neither went unnoticed by the crowd of more than 250 packing the Quadra Island Community Centre.

"Where is the representative from Plutonic Power today?" asked Quadra’s Keith Liseth. "Is this such a top-heavy one-man show that a company of this size that can build a project like this cannot find someone else to meet with the community. I find it pathetic."

"I am super disappointed that Plutonic’s not here," said Lannie Keller of Read Island. "I think that speaks to their level of commitment to the communities."

Strathcona Regional District director Jim Abram said both he and the BC Environmental Assessment Office (EAO) had asked Plutonic to attend.

"I repeatedly requested that they be here, by phone and by email, and their CEO Donald McInnes I was told is away on holiday and there isn’t any other person in their entire office that could attend on behalf of Plutonic. I thought their decision was not a good one. We did our best to get them here. They’re not here."

Plutonic and its partner General Electric want to generate 1,027 megawatts through 17 run-of-river generation plants on the Homathco, Southgate and Orford rivers feeding Bute Inlet. The project, estimated to cost $3.5 billion or more, would require more than 440 kilometres (275 miles) of transmission line right-of-way as well as access roads to be cut through the region. The proposal is in the early stages of federal and provincial environmental assessment processes.

"That’s not considered part of the official open house process," Plutonic spokesperson Elisha McCallum said last week about Sunday’s meeting. "The way it was explained to us was that it was an Environmental Assessment Office and CEAA explanation of process – going through those two regulatory processes. So we won’t be attending that meeting. We’ll do our own engagement processes in addition to any other official meetings where they would invite us to attend."

Perhaps Plutonic could see what was coming. Sunday’s meeting stretched through almost five hours, including an explanation of the assessment processes from EAO project manager Kathy Eichenberger, a summary of the Plutonic proposal, and more than three hours of rejection from speaker after speaker after speaker.

Liseth, a Quadra Island logging contractor who’s spent 21 years in the Bute area, was among the most outspoken.

"Has anyone in Plutonic Power wintered in Bute Inlet?" he asked. "They don’t know what they’re dealing with. Bute Inlet is a very unfriendly place. The whole country falls down, constantly. Every one of those great glacial basins that you see hanging up in those mountains send avalanches in the winter from the summits to the water or the valley bottoms.

"You see lovely little pictures of (Plutonic) dams and their weirs in those lovely little clean ponds leading into them, the water’s all slow and nice. I asked an oldtimer and great mentor of mine, ‘what about this creek and that creek’ and he laughed and laughed and said ‘they’re all washouts. It’s only a matter of time.’ And that is the truth.

"I could not think of anything as absurd as calling this a green project or calling this something that we the people of this province will want, because we’re going to be saddled with a turkey."

"We are giving away rights to conglomerates that are pretty much all coming from south of the boarder," said Vinay Chafekar. "I find it’s incredibly naive. We talk about the sovereignty of Canada and we are giving away bits and pieces in interesting ways to other people?"

Cortes Island regional district director Noba Anderson said the proposal shouldn’t be considered in isolation from bigger energy issues.

"I’m hearing from a lot of my constituents that there’s certainly willingness for a conversation to be had of how we as a province, a nation and a globe address greenhouse gas emissions," she said. "This is a huge conversation. It just feels like we’re looking at a small piece of a huge conversation that we’re not having. That’s really disturbing to the people that I represent."

Several speakers, including Ross Campbell, expressed concerns that such a massive proposal could be considered without an overall plan in place for the coast.

"If we’re going to degrade Bute Inlet, are we going to degrade Knight Inlet too?" he asked. "Maybe we should set aside on some larger plan the sense that if we’re going to mess up one area and save another, maybe we should think first which one we want to mess up and which one we want to save."

Jim Roberts of Quadra said the technology doesn’t exist to do a proper assessment of salmon potential in the rivers because they’re clouded with silt.

"If we were to develop that technology today and start our assessment tomorrow, you’d have to have at least two cycles of chinook," he said. "That’s eight years, so anything short of an eight-year environmental assessment review is us putting our hands up and saying ‘we’re tired of these pesky wild salmon standing in the way of development.’ I don’t think there’s many people in the room here that want to say that."

And so it continued until shortly before 4 p.m.

There were many large scale questions outside the EAO’s jurisdiction, but Eichenberger did confirm that many of the concerns raised would be addressed. She stressed the assessment process is by no means a rubber stamp of approval.

"We are in the early stages," she said. "We’ve received many comments saying that we’re rubber stamping. It is anything but that, and there have been many projects that entered our system that did not get certified. I want to assure you that there is no decision that’s going to be made on this project before at least a year and a half from now. There’s a lot that can happen, a lot of work that has to be done, a lot of input that we need from you."

Jim Abram summed up the meeting.

"We are of the opinion in this room, that we need to stop this project from proceeding," he said. "Too many concerns have been identified. Certainly we need to make global sacrifices. We know that, but we do not need to sacrifice the Bute Inlet area to do it. There are better ways and there’s better technology, and we need to start with conservation."

He said the province needs to do a Sunshine Coast land-use plan, and initiate a planning process for sustainable alternative power production.

"It’s absolutely insane to not do a planning process on the Sunshine Coast and then to plunk down the biggest independent power project ever in exactly that same spot, before it’s planned," he said.

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