Sudden changes to the Nechako River enhancement fund including a five-month timeline to designate spending for the fund’s millions is not sitting well with the Cheslatta Carrier nation.
“The timing is so aggressive … saying everything has to be done by June, when this has been on the books for over a decade is not right,” Mike Robertson said.
The Cheslatta spokesperson is asking how extreme water flows of the Nechako River will ever be corrected since the B.C. government and Rio Tinto Alcan no longer support a cold water spillway at Kenny Dam.
Robertson expressed disappointment in Nechako Environmental Enhancement Fund’s (NEEF) new focus of finding alternative river enchancement projects before June.
“We haven’t given up on a water release facility – that has been our goal for a long time,” the Cheslatta rep emphasized, “the committee recommended it in 2001.”
Still Robertson said they will attend the enhancement panel’s meetings, despite the new agenda.
“We will continue to meet with (fund managers) and hear what they have to say,” he said.
The new NEEF fund panel who represent the province, the federal fisheries ministry and Rio Tinto Alcan state that the possible price tag of over $250 million and concerns about benefits of cold water release is what led to seeking other forms of river fixes.
“We now have the benefit of a large amount of information learned since 1997,” the new committee wrote in a recent information bulletin, “It is our responsibility to balance the costs and benefits of options and ultimately be accountable for the decisions made and how the fund is used.”
Robertson says fixing the local waterways is a priority for the band, but adds there won’t be much point to new projects if they can’t stop deluges that ruin local salmon and sturgeon beds.
“The Kenny Dam changed things for 60 years and damage continued each and every year,” Robertson said, “I can understand the government’s in a tough financial situation but we’re talking about benefits for generation’s to come.”
All parties agree that the damage in local rivers continues because federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans legislation forces huge water flows downstream to spawning sockeye salmon that are hundreds of miles away.
But favouring that salmon run continues to damage local food fish and rare white sturgeon beds.
“It’s killing us,” Robertson emphasized.
He said the Cheslatta band will seek alternate ways to build a water release facility. Robertson speculates that the region could find funding partners in industry or other governments once benefits including the potential for power generation have been made clearer.
“There’s (industry) being proposed near Vanderhoof and they will need hydro for their operations that can be produced by a water release (plant),” Robertson said.
Rallying behind the orphaned river project puts the Cheslatta in the same corner as former NEEF managers and residents who expressed shock at the five month timeline for deciding how to spend a possible $100 million worth of funding earmarked for Nechako and Cheslatta restoration.
When Robertson led a delegation of the Cheslatta band to a District of Vanderhoof council to register unhappiness with the fund’s new path, the mayor commented that those who seek a good outcome need to combine their efforts.
“We are much stronger if we work together,” Gerry Thiessen said.