BC Hydro's most significant transmission project in 30 years, the proposed $700 million dollar transmission line from Merritt to the Lower Mainland, was dealt another setback yesterday when the British Columbia Utilities Commission (BCUC) ruled that First Nations had not been sufficiently consulted.
After a year long review of BC Hydro's engagement of First Nations, the BCUC ruled that BC Hydro had failed to meet the high level of consultation owed to several First Nations who will be seriously affected by the proposed new transmission line.
As a result, the Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity required for the project-which was suspended by the B.C. Court of Appeal in 2009 when it ordered the BCUC to reconsider the matter-remains suspended. At this time, the project, which was originally slated to receive all major approvals by Fall 2009, remains in limbo and cannot proceed.
'This is a major victory for our Nation, and other First Nations' said Chief Tim Manuel of the Upper Nicola Indian Band who, along with the Okanagan Nation Alliance and the Nlaka'pamux Nation Tribal Council, have been calling for the Province and BC Hydro to meet constitutional requirements with respect to this project for several years.
'BC Hydro and the Province have been resisting meaningful engagement every step of the way. When the Court of Appeal sided with us and other First Nations in 2009 we thought they would change their behaviour - but they haven't. We have been clear-let's sit down and work this out. But this hasn't happened yet. Hopefully this is a turning point.'
The BCUC decision is only one aspect of the litigation that has embroiled the transmission project in costly delays due to BC Hydro's reluctance to seriously address First Nation concerns. Next week, the B.C. Supreme Court will begin hearing a case brought by Upper Nicola, the Okanagan Nation Alliance and the Nlaka'pamux Nation Tribal Council challenging the environmental assessment certificate issued for the project.
The First Nations say that BC Hydro failed to properly consult prior to the issuance of this certificate. They also say that the Province failed to fulfill a promise to address their concerns regarding existing transmission lines and the proposed new line.
'Our communities have been impacted for years from these transmission works-yet, even when Ministers promise to address these issues, the Province continues to stall and avoid reaching a resolution', said Chief Bob Pasco, Chair of the Nlaka'pamux Nation Tribal Council.
In its ruling, the BCUC ordered BC Hydro, amongst other things, to consult with First Nations about revenue sharing. 'This is very significant, and indicates, yet again, the continuing failure of the Province and BC Hydro to take seriously their responsibilities to meaningfully include First Nations in development through economic accommodation', said Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, Chair of the Okanagan Nation Alliance and President of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs.
'For four years BC Hydro and the Provincial officials have been saying they have no mandates from politicians to negotiate revenue sharing for energy projects. I think with this ruling that game is up. Either we get serious and negotiate about how First Nations will share fairly and justly in resource use, or projects will continue to be delayed, and may even have to be cancelled, as the Crown fails to get serious.'