A number of issues are threatening the forward movement and construction of the Northwest Transmission Line (NTL) and the environmental issue is one of the lower concerns. First and foremost is the inability of the BC Government to deliver the authority to BCTC or BC Hydro to speak to the Nisga’a Lisims Government. President Mitchell Stevens reaffirmed Friday; they have not been contacted by the Government or any other entity regarding the route the NTL will take or the concerns of the Nisga’a.
Minister George Abbott responded to our questions regarding this issue on May 11th during the 10 year anniversary of the Nisga’a Treaty final agreement celebrations. We asked when the BC Government would give BCTC or BC Hydro the authority to speak with the Nisga’a Lisims Government regarding the route through the Nisga’a lands.
“There is a separate discussion that needs to occur between BC Hydro and the Nisga’a and several other first nations whose territory may be impacted by this project.” stated Abbott adding he made a commitment to President Mitchell to move forward on some of the concerns. By last Friday Mitchell confirmed his government has still not been contacted to open and engage in any discussions regarding the NTL.
Before the entire NTL project was shelved at the end of November 2007 the Provincial Government had been speaking with the Nisga’a. Concerns were raised about the amount of land the line would consume and the number of creeks and watersheds impacted. Harry Nyce, the Regional District representative from the Nass Valley, spoke about the two transmission line proposals on November 23, 2007 during the RDKS Board meeting. Nyce spoke about the huge swaths of land that these projects are consuming and raised the specter of confusion and suspicion on behalf of the Nisga'a in the maneuvers of the transmission entities.
"We need more dialogue between the Nisga'a and this group," he stated referring to Coast Hydro, Nova Gold and BCTC, "They have gone beyond the parameters that they were initially given."
The request was to extend the geotechnical and survey work review for 5 years due to the announcement of the Provinces support for the larger 287 KVA line. The entire RDKS Board supported Nyce and denied the request determining to table it for the month. Two days later Nova Gold shut down the mine and two days after that the BC Government cancelled the NTL project. Read our report of November 2007, HERE
Last Friday, Nisga’a Lisims President Stevens stated, “If you can find out why the Government wont talk to us let me know.”
It may simply be a lot of complications that are better avoided than dealing with head on. The NTL has an alternative route already established. It is to go through an area called the Cedar-Kiteen. Just north of Rosswood, before the Lava beds, the NTL would head in a northeasterly direction to the Cranberry Junction at Highway 37. According to Kathy Eichenberger of the Environmental Assessment Office the estimate is this alternate route would add just under $4 million to the project, a 1 percent increase to the overall cost. See an overall picture of the route in the article posted HERE
The main issue which seems to present a problem with continuing through the Nisga’a lands is the Park Boundaries of the Lava Beds. Tim Jennings, Major Projects Manager for BCTC stated they need to reach reasonable terms but acknowledged they have not spoken adding, “We have not broached the right of way […] the park boundaries of the Lava Bed need to be modified.” Jennings acknowledged this was a sensitive area in more than just the environment. Eichenberger also spoke on the issue of the Lava Bed Park Boundaries. “The Nisga’a have a veto on the Park Boundary amendment, if they choose to say no, it’s no.”
A second issue of concern for those wishing the NTL to move forward with haste is an anchor tenant. Eichenberger stated this could be the one factor that would stop the project. She stated the Government would not construct the line until it had a firm commitment from a major consumer of the electricity.
At the Environmental Assessment Review Hearing in Terrace on April 29th, Iskut resident Jim Bourquin asked about long term firm power availability and where the power was going to come from to feed the new transmission line. “Does BC Hydro have 400 MW of spare power?” Former Kitamaat Chief Councillor Steve Wilson echoed Bourquin’s concerns stating, “For one we don’t even know where the power’s going to come from.” Jennings was not able to answer this question. Later, after the meeting concluded, he stated “There is capacity to power up the line.” But when pushed on how much was available to not have brown outs if one or more mines started in the North, he would not expand simply stating “We have the capacity to power up the Northwest Transmission Line based on the nominal capacity that we’re building to.”
One of the concerns raised by local contractors at the Environmental Assessment Hearing on April 29th in Terrace was the construction of the project. Jennings stated they will be outsourcing the construction to a company which would be able to complete all aspects of the project including the engineering. This has the local equipment operators crying foul as they have lots of idle equipment, as they called it “Iron” on the ground waiting for work. The concern is the outside corporation will bring in all there own equipment and crews. Local contractors claim they know the terrain of the Northwest and are best suited to construct the roads and access for the NTL. Jennings stated he would not be able to assure that locals would be used and later stated it would not be part of the proposals for the bidding process. Jennings stated they have identified four companies they feel capable of constructing the project. A second concern raised by the local contractors at this meeting was the size of the line. Many stated they should build the line bigger to anticipate the future. The future being the potential of tying into the Alaskan grid to bring more power south; “Build it once, build it big” was the overall theme expressed.
Minister Abbott referred to the new Clean Energy Act when speaking about the Line passing through the Nisga’a Lands and other first nations. This new provision will provide for revenue sharing and a new business equity fund for first nations. Abbott stated these options were not available to BC Hydro or BCTC during the earlier discussions. Another new development is the re-joining of BCTC and BC Hydro. After separating these two arms of BC Hydro in 2003, the BC Government has now brought them back together again under one roof. The entire operation is now under contract to be managed by Accenture. Accenture, though now a BC registered Corporation, has Board of Director personnel ties to the failed and corrupt Arthur Anderson and Enron fiasco of the late 1990’s.
It remains to be seen just when, where and how the NTL will be built. We have not spoken to one individual who has expressed the desire to not see it built. From the extreme left to the extreme right of the political spectrum, all wish to see it constructed. Some want it even bigger, some just want the impacts of the development it might produce managed effectively, but all want to see the line constructed.
It would seem, by the silence from the BC Government to the Nisga’a, the plan to go through the Cedar-Kiteen is a foregone conclusion. The extra cost would passed onto the consumer. The only remaining question might be who that consumer is. Stevens stated that even if BCTC chose to bypass through the Cedar-Kiteen, the watersheds would still impact their lands, "They need to give us a call. Maybe they lost our phone number."
The Terrace Economic Development Authority (TEDA), the Terrace and District Chamber of Commerce (TDCC) and the Kitimat Terrace Industrial Development Society (KTIDS) are hosting an information session on the proposal and the 45 day Environmental Assessment review period tomorrow, May 26 at 12:00 noon, at the Coast Inn of the West. TEDAwould appreciate a RSVP at 635-4168 to assist in determining the numbers to expect.