By Derrick Penner, Vancouver Sun, December 14, 2011
The province on Tuesday granted environmental approval to a proposed run-of-river power project on the Kokish River of northern Vancouver Island that was opposed by conservation groups over potential threats to steelhead and salmon habitat.
The $200-million project, a partner-ship of Brookfield Renewable Power Inc. and the 'Namgis First Nation, under the name Kwagis Power Ltd. Partnership, would see construction of a nine-kilometre-long penstock diversion to a 45-megawatt power station that would deliver electricity to the BC Hydro grid under a long-term electricity purchase agreement, with a scheduled start date of 2014.
A Ministry of Environment press release said a joint federal/provincial review "concluded the project is not expected to result in any significant adverse effects," though that would be dependent upon meeting a list of 77 required fisheries mitigation measures and commitments as part of the certificate.
Conservationists, however, dispute that conclusion and continue to oppose approval of a project on a river with a rare wild summer-run steel-head population, salmon and high biodiversity values.
"This approval sends a signal to the world that no B.C. stream is off limits to private power production, regard-less of fish values," said Brian Braid-wood, president of the Steelhead Society of B.C. in an email statement to The Sun.
In his note, Braidwood said the Kwa-gis project represents the first time a power project would be allowed to divert water from valuable steelhead or salmon habitat, and his organization "does not believe the many and complex fish impacts can be sufficiently mitigated with any degree of certainty."
The project did require a fish habitat compensation plan due to the expectation of "significant impacts to fish and fish habitat," according to a Feb. 7 letter of comment to the review process from Greg Savard, who wrote it as acting regional director of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans' habitat and enhancement branch.
In the letter, Savard said DFO's review determined that the diversion, as initially designed, would not put flows of water into the Kokish sufficient to support the migration, spawning, incubation and rearing of three species of salmon and steelhead.
The news release said issuance of the certificate is dependent on "maintaining sufficient river flows for all life stages of key fish species," and that the project's in-stream works "do not obstruct fish migration upstream and downstream."
The proponents will also be required to submit and implement a habitat compensation plan that DFO will accept, and subject the project to annual compliance reporting over the life of the development.
However, conservationists who have been involved say many of the questions they have about the mitigation plans remain unanswered.
"This has been stuffed through by the government very prematurely," said Perry Wilson, president of the B.C. Federation of Fly Fishers.
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