Chief Rita Matthew Simpcw Shuswap first nation hydro ipp bc
Chief Rita Matthew shown with the mic at a Shuswap Nation Tribal Council Meeting in January.

In a press release last week, Chief Rita Matthew said the Simpcw First Nation will oppose the proposed Holmes Hydro hydro-electric project and the Holmes River transmission line until certain conditions are met and she said they are considering a legal challenge. The projects fall in the Simpcw’s traditional territory south of McBride.

Chief Matthew said although the Simpcw are in favour in principle of sustainable economic development and clean energy, Simpcw First Nation will oppose both the Holmes Hydro project and the Holmes River transmission line “until and unless our aboriginal interests in the project area have been properly accommodated by British Columbia and the proponent.”

She added that, if the project were to proceed, any future damage or risk to Simpcw traditional resources must be offset by appropriate mitigation measures and appropriate economic compensation to Simpcw First Nation.

Chief Matthew also said in the press release that the BC government has so far failed to meet three key legal requirements for permitting the Holmes River project: meaningful consultation with Simpcw First Nation about infringement by the project on aboriginal title and rights; good faith negotiations with Simpcw first Nation about conditions that would have to be met in order for the project to receive a permit; and Fair compensation for infringement by the project of Simpcw aboriginal title and rights.

In her letter to Rich Coleman she said: “We are especially concerned about the potential cumulative impacts of this project on the Holmes River watershed, which is located in Simpcw First Nation traditional territory. In particular, we are aware of the potential damage this project could do to local populations of grizzlies, ungulates, salmon, berries, and fresh water fish that are part of the traditional resource base of our people. To date, we have not seen a detailed and comprehensive report on the potential cumulative project impacts on these resources, nor have we seen a plan of proposed mitigation measures the proponents of the project could deploy to offset environmental damage resulting from the project.”

Holmes Hydro developer and McBride resident Duke Peterson declined to comment on the record other than to say consultation will be ongoing with regards to the transmission line. He must consult with five First Nations for his projects.

Chief Matthew also questioned why the Holmes River hydro project in the McBride area has been allowed to avoid the requirement of a bigger environmental review.
The question of the environmental assessment is currently the subject of a Supreme Court challenge by The Watershed Watch Salmon Society and the David Suzuki Foundation. The conservation groups were in court last week asking a B.C. Supreme Court judge to overrule the decision about the omitted full-scale environmental assessment.

The Holmes River IPP, spearheaded by Peterson consists of 10 generating sites on tributaries to the Holmes River. Combined, the 10 small projects would produce 76 MW of electricity, but individually, none of the projects exceeds 50 MW (which is the threshold for a full environmental assessment). When considered as separate projects, it removes the obligation for a full environmental review, though the developer still has to complete various environmental impact studies under BC law. Whether or not these environmental assessments are good enough for the scale of the project is the subject of the case.

The Watershed Watch Salmon Society and the David Suzuki Foundation say the 10 projects should be treated as a single large undertaking, given their cumulative impact downstream. This would then make it necessary to complete another environmental assessment.

While the tributaries do not contain fish, the Holmes River is home to Chinook salmon, and the conservation groups say they are concerned that the water diversion involved in 10 hydro stations could impact a salmon population that feeds into the Fraser River, they say. The matter is still before the courts.

Holmes Hydro Ltd. has already developed and operated two similar projects with the successful completion of the East Twin project of 1700 KW in 1991 and the Hystad Project of 6800 KW in 2001. Work began on the feasibility of the 10 new projects seven years ago in 2006. All the roads and rights of way, powerhouse and diversion sites, bridge locations, and transmission rights of way having been determined and flagged for construction. Stream flow measurements have been taken and many government studies have been submitted and approved.

Holmes Hydro has government water licences and land tenures on all streams in its proposal, and the right of ways for power lines. All 10 projects having letters of opinion from Eco Logo. Critics of the project have argued the Eco Logo designation is too lenient.

The projects qualified for BC Hydro’s Standing Offer Program that encourages the development of clean or renewable power projects throughout British Columbia. Completion of the hydroelectric plants would allow BC Hydro to fill the gap in available energy that exists from current resources and the growing demand in the Robson Valley.