NEEF committee sets 2018 cutoff for water release facility funding

NEEF management committee doles out $10 million for new projects to benefit imperiled Nechako, Cheslatta watersheds

The Nechako Environmental Enhancement Fund (NEEF) management committee is doling out $10 million for new projects that will benefit the imperiled Nechako watershed.

Last month the committee decided to allot $2 million to watershed stewardship and tributary restoration, $1 million to Cheslatta Watershed restoration, $1 million to integrated watershed research, $4 million for operating a Nechako White Sturgeon Hatchery and $1 million to facilitate the completion of an environmental assessment on building a water release facility (WRF), according to a 27-page report released on September 12.

Over a period of five years, 80 per cent of the NEEF will be made available for construction of a WRF at Kenney Dam. If certain milestones aren’t met during that timeframe, the remaining funds will be used for other watershed enhancement projects, the committee decided.

“While a WRF option remains a high priority there is clearly an increasing urgency to be doing something now towards other environmental enhancements options in the Nechako watershed,” the report says.

More than half a century has passed since the provincial government authorized the Aluminum Company of Canada (Alcan), now Rio Tinto Alcan, to build the Kenney Dam on the Nechako River, rerouting its natural flow to generate electricity for smelting operations.

Called the Kemano Project, the historical Canadian engineering feat opened northwestern B.C. to industrial and economic development. And in 1961, Alcan started reaping large profits by selling excess electricity to B.C. Hydro, a Crown corporation.

But the project inflicted devastating long-term consequences downstream, starving regions of water flow, impacting fisheries and forcing the Cheslatta Carrier First Nation to relocate some 45 miles away from their now flooded homeland.

Relations between Alcan and the province were dashed in 1979 when the B.C. government rejected Alcan’s proposal to expand the generating capacity of its Kemano power plant. The company, in turn, launched a $500-million lawsuit against the provincial government.

For many years, as various multi-party litigations, disputes and public enquiries casted doubt over any hope for peace or environmental remediation, the Nechako and Cheslatta watersheds continued suffering from the detrimental effects of the Kemano Project.

With legal fees sucking up untold amounts of money that could have been benefitting the damaged watersheds, the province settled with Alcan in 1997, issuing Alcan one last license to extract water from the Nechako Reservoir for aluminum production and granting the company access to alternative power sources thereafter.

As a result of the settlement, the NEEF and the management committee were established to steer funding and remedial efforts to the Nechako and Cheslatta watersheds. Alcan and the province committed $50 million each to the NEEF on a matching dollar basis, the majority of which was going to be used to build a $99-million cold water release facility, the committee decided in 2001.

In 2012, citing almost a decade’s worth of subsequent studies and environmental assessments, and following months of public consultations and internal review, a newly appointed management committee determined that a surface water facility would cost more than $250 million to build.

“The cost was way larger than the amount of money available through the NEEF, and there were risks identified through eight years of study since the 2001 decision that weren’t apparent back then,” said Pieter Bekker, then chair and provincial representative of the NEEF management committee.

“The upside seemed to be lower and the cost was considerably higher.”

Today, the remaining Rio Tinto Alcan obligation to the NEEF amounts to about $38 million. Aside from the question of who will contribute matching dollars, the total potential value of the fund is about $75 million, the report indicates.

Although the 1997 legal agreement didn’t obligate a specific party other than Alcan to contribute to the NEEF, “given the fiscal environment the province is not in a position to provide new dedicated funds to NEEF,” according to Vivian Thomas, communications manager for the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations.

“The province will continue to fund its participation on the NEEF Management Committee and may also contribute on an in-kind basis as it continues its work on fisheries in particular,” Thomas said in an email on Oct. 12, 2012.

In the September 2012 report, the NEEF management committee identified “that a WRF is the only way to fully rehabilitate the Cheslatta watershed.”

Now, with the province withdrawing funding, Cheslatta Carrier Nations is proposing to build a WRF at Kenney Dam, an estimated $275-million project that largely hinges on private financing and an electricity purchase agreement with BC Hydro, said Mike Robertson, senior policy advisor to Cheslatta.

“We’re not actively seeking financial support from the province, but we do maintain that the government has a moral obligation to invest in the Nechako after everything it has given to northern B.C.,” he said.

In Vanderhoof, where the diminished flow of the Nechako River is inconsistent at best, hopes of environmental remediation have repeatedly been dashed as the NEEF continues dwindling away.

“We see it as a real disappointment,” said Mayor Gerry Thiessen.

 

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

District of Vanderhoof Mayor Gerry Thiessen recently photographed the town’s original cemetery — now completely overgrown — among the trails behind the Vanderhoof Museum and Visitor Centre. (Gerry Thiessen photo)
Mayor, historical society examine ways to mark Vanderhoof’s original cemetery

“It is a part of our history and we don’t want that history to evaporate,” Thiessen said.

Northern Health saw 14 cases in one day earlier this week, the highest in one day since the beginning of the pandemic. (Image courtesy CDC)
Northern Health sees highest number of COVID-19 cases in one day

There have been 23 cases of reported cases of COVID-19 in the Nechako Lakes Health Area

’Herbert’ Shane Hartman with his daughter Isla. (Shane Hartman Facebook photo)
Love for daughter and drumming leads to author’s first book

Shane Hartman spent very spare moment writing and illustrating Isla’s New Drum

“We have to make a call out to address this now so our people don’t have to feel fearful,” said Tribal Chief Mina Holmes. (Carrier Sekani Tribal Council Facebook photo)
Carrier Sekani Tribal Council seeks Indigenous-led task force in northern B.C. hospitals

Request made in an open letter to federal minister Carolyn Bennett

Physical distancing signs are a common sight in B.C. stores and businesses. THE CANADIAN PRESS
272 more COVID-19 cases for B.C., outbreak at oil sands project

Three new health care outbreaks, three declared over

This house at 414 Royal Ave. became notorious for its residents’ and visitors’ penchant for attracting police. It was also the site of a gruesome torture in August 2018. It was demolished in 2019. KTW
6-year sentence for Kamloops man who helped carve ‘rat’ into flesh of fellow gang member

Ricky Dennis was one of three men involved in the August 2018 attack

Cpl. Nathan Berze, media officer for the Mission RCMP, giving an update on the investigation at 11:30 a.m., Oct. 30. Patrick Penner photo.
VIDEO: Prisoner convicted of first-degree murder still at large from Mission Institution

When 10 p.m. count was conducted, staff discovered Roderick Muchikekwanape had disappeared

Among the pumpkin carvings created this year by Rick Chong of Abbotsford is this tribute to fallen officer Cont. Allan Young.
Abbotsford pumpkin carver’s creations include fallen police officer

Rick Chong carves and displays 30 pumpkins every year

An online fundraising campaign in support of the six-year-old boy, Edgar Colby, who was hit by a car on Range Road Oct. 25 has raised more than $62,000 in a day. (Submitted)
$62K raised in 1 day for boy in coma at BC Children’s after being hit by vehicle in Yukon

The boy’s aunt says the family is “very grateful” for the support they’ve received from the community

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Health care employees take extensive precautions when working with people infected or suspected of having COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
WorkSafeBC disallows majority of COVID-19 job injury claims

Health care, social services employees filing the most claims

Conservative leader Erin O’Toole rises during Question Period in the House of Commons in Ottawa on Wednesday October 28, 2020. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)
Conversion therapy ban gets approval in principle, exposes Conservative divisions

Erin O’Toole himself voted in favour of the bill, as did most Conservative MPs

CBSA. (Black Press Media File)
4 sentenced in B.C. steroid smuggling, distribution ring that spilled into U.S.

Canadian Border Services Agency announced the results of a lengthy investigation it called ‘Project Trajectory’

Most Read