The controversial Narrows Inlet Hydro Project has gained a conditional Environmental Assessment Certificate and a new business partner. The certificate was announced on January 20 by Environment Minister Mary Polak and Energy and Mines Minister Bill Bennett.

The project which is run by Narrows Inlet Hydro Holding Corporation originally consisted of five project but was reduced to three last year after EAO sited problems with their application, including water drawdown, fish habitat and grizzly bear habitat.  The three projects now are Chickwat Creek, Lower Ramona Creek and Upper Ramona Creek.

At the 2012 EAO open house in Egmont, Chief Garry Feschuck said that the Band was looking at an equity position. It has now been announced that the shíshálh Nation has been granted $500,000 from the First Nations Clean Energy Business Fund to purchase equity in the Narrows Project, subject to approval and construction of the Project, and has entered into an Impact Benefits Agreement with Narrows Inlet Hydro Holdings.

Last fall, Chief Feschuk said, “Sale of electricity is the future not only for BC, but for our Nation. In constructing clean energy projects, we will steward our land as responsibly as our ancestors”.

This has been a source of conflict with some Band members who are asking how they can be “keepers of the land” and participate in this type of project. The Fund was created in the 2010 Clean Energy Act to promote increased First Nation participation in the clean energy sector within their asserted traditional territories and treaty areas.

The Wilderness Committee who has called for a moratorium on IPPs in BC expressed frustration with this decision.“BC Hydro just cancelled ten IPP contracts and deferred another nine to lower costs for British Columbians,” said Gwen Barlee, Policy Director with the Wilderness Committee, “so why would they turn around and green-light this contentious project?” 

“River diversion projects not only ruin wild rivers, they produce expensive surplus electricity that we don’t need,” said Barlee. “We need to keep wild rivers out of pipes and stop throwing good money after bad on these projects.”

The Environmental Assessment Certificate includes 26 conditions, which together with the design aspects specified in the Certified Project Description will mitigate potential impacts of the project. Each of the conditions is a legally-binding requirement that Narrows Inlet Hydro Holding Corp. must meet to be in compliance with the certificate.

Key conditions listed by the government for the project include that Narrows Inlet Hydro Holding Corp. must:

  • Conduct a study to determine the levels of methyl mercury in sediment/soils at Ramona Lake and potential effects on the release of methyl mercury into Ramona Lake.
  • Only draw down Ramona Lake in accordance with conservative conditions specified in the certificate.
  • Develop and implement a water quality and lake level monitoring program at Ramona Lake that includes monitoring water temperature, total solid sediments and nutrients.
  • During operations, maintain the in-stream flow rates and diversion rates specified in the certificate.
  • Communicate with the public on the status of the project and communicate with the Narrows Inlet Users Group on the timing of construction activities related to the powerhouse, transmission line and other infrastructure in the Lower Ramona Creek area.
  • Develop and implement a fish habitat compensation plan for Chickwat Creek.
  • Develop and implement plans for erosion control, drainage management and surface water quality protection during construction to protect water quality in Ramona Creek.

Further investigation into the conditions revealed that:

  • If methyl mercury concentrations in Ramona Lake are higher than those set out in Health Canada standards for Canadian drinking water, then the Proponent will not be allowed to construct the weir or flood Ramona Lake.
  • Mitigation of inpacts to fish habitat for Chickwat Creek would consist of pumping water upstream to provide sufficient flows to reduce overall habitat effect.
  • During the first and second year of operation an incremental drawdown of 16 metres from natural lake levels will be allowed.
  • The hydro corporation must also address concerns of the effects of the project on recreational property in Narrows Inlet related to noise, dust and impacts on water quality in Ramona Creek.