Diversion tunnels have been completed to redirect the Peace River during low water this summer, in one of the most critical steps to completing the Site C dam, March 2020. (BC Hydro)

Diversion tunnels have been completed to redirect the Peace River during low water this summer, in one of the most critical steps to completing the Site C dam, March 2020. (BC Hydro)

Open letter urges B.C. to pause work at Site C dam to review costs, geotechnical issues

Dam has been affected by possible COVID-19 delays

A letter addressed to NDP Leader John Horgan is urging the province to halt the construction of the Site C dam while geotechnical issues are investigated.

The open letter, which includes signatories such as former BC Hydro CEO Marc Eliesen, Chief Roland Willson of the West Moberly First Nations and 16 other former CEOs, scientists and Indigenous leaders, says that the “problem-plagued” project needs to stop construction.

“The Site C project is years away from completion, is mired in problems that may be unfixable, and confronts new, potentially horrendous cost over-runs,” the letter states.

The letter cites geotechnical problems revealed in July, when BC Hydro CEO Chris O’Riley wrote of “a project risk” to do with the right bank. O’Riley said that “investigations and analysis of geological mapping and monitoring activities completed during construction identified that some foundation enhancements would be required to increase the stability below the powerhouse, spillway and future dam core areas.”

The CEO’s letter also cited financial hurdles brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. Prior to the worldwide health crisis, the first generating unit of the Peace River dam was scheduled to go into service in late 2023, with a final in-service date in 2024.

“While we remain on schedule to achieve river diversion in 2020, there is uncertainty with the project’s schedule and in-service date. This is primarily due to our ability to re-start and accelerate work that was halted due to the pandemic,” O’Riley wrote in July.

Monday’s (Sept. 28) open letter asks the government to “immediately suspend all construction activities at the project” while giving Site C special advisor Peter Milburn, a former B.C. government bureaucrat with a background in civil engineering, time to accomplish three tasks.

The open letter’s signatories want Milburn to appoint a panel of three professionals with no link to Site C to do geotechnical assessment. Secondly, the letter asks for that information to be public prior to the government making a decision to restart the project.

“This is crucial because to date the public’s trust in the Site C project has been eroded by a lack of transparency,” the letter states. The last ask is for the public to get a “full accounting” of the costs to date associated with Site C, as well as of the upcoming costs required to complete the project.

The cost of the Site C Dam was pegged at $7.9 billion in 2011 but has grown to $10.7 billion. The dam has also been the subject of legal battles, with the Prophet River First Nation settling one in early August.

READ MORE: Agreement between province, BC Hydro, First Nation, ends legal fight over Site C

READ MORE: BC Hydro’s Site C set back by COVID-19, foundation changes


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