Massive commercial power developments are being considered for existing and planned conservancy areas on the B.C. coast, raising doubts about a landmark multi-stakeholder agreement designed to bring peace and economic certainty to an area known as the Great Bear Rainforest.
“Premier Gordon Campbell is completely going back on his promise to protect this coast,” charged Ian McAllister, the award-winning author and conservationist who coined the term Great Bear Rainforest and who now works under the banner of Conservation Pacific.
“This isn’t world-class, this isn’t a model we’d want to have any other region on the planet follow.”
Campbell did not agree to The Vancouver Sun’s request for an interview.
When the province announced the Great Bear Rainforest agreement in February 2006, it promised that commercial logging, mining and hydro-electric power generation would be banned in the conservancies aside from “low impact … local run-of-river projects” designed to provide power for nearby communities not on the power grid.
Campbell described the agreement – supported by the province, aboriginals, industry and certain environmental groups – as an “example the world can follow,” putting an end to a decade of confrontation on the coast.
The province formally established 24 conservancies in July 2006 and another 41 in May 2007 spanning more than 706,000 hectares in total on the central and north coast.
The province is still working on the final touches to another 48 conservancies totalling more than 590,000 hectares, due for completion in 2008.
But The Sun has learned the province’s Environmental Assessment Office is reviewing a private proposal on Banks Island for what is billed as the world’s largest wind farm – 234 wind turbines generating 700 megawatts of energy, with an expansion to 3,000 megawatts in the coming years – that would intrude upon three existing conservancies.
The assessment office is also considering four applications for commercial run-of-the-river hydro developments – on the Nascall River, the Klinaklini River, Crab Creek and and Europa Creek – that would connect to the BC Hydro power grid and intrude upon four other conservancies soon to be designated.
Ken Morrison, manager of the planning and land administration section in the B.C. Ministry of Environment, said in an interview from Victoria that the conservancy legislation is silent on commercial wind farms. He also argued that before the 2006 announcement on the Great Bear Rainforest, the province had issued an “investigative use permit” for a Banks Island wind farm and that it identified the potential for wind farms on Banks Island in a land-use plan with coastal first nations.
As for the commercial run-of-the-river proposals that are not consistent with the allowable uses as stated in the legislation, Morrison said the province is investigating potential alterations to the boundaries of the proposed conservancies prior to formal protection to potentially allow the proposals to proceed.
If that happened, the ecological integrity of the conservancies would have to be assured, he insisted.
Wind turbines and run-of-the-river hydro projects are widely viewed as good green alternatives to power projects that involve the burning of fossil fuels such as coal or natural gas, but they can require vast infrastructure – not just the turbines and water tunnels, but roads and transmission lines. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services estimates power lines kill up 174 million birds annually in America.
By Larry Pynn
19 December 2007
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