Judith Lavoie, Times Colonist, April 25, 2012
A controversial hydroelectric project on northern Vancouver Island is poised to start construction, even though the Department of Fisheries and Oceans has not given an official goahead.
Help-wanted advertisements for the Kokish River power project have appeared in northern Island newspapers and the 'Namgis First Nation, which owns a 25 per cent stake in the $200-million project, has been told approval is imminent.
"We have been told it will be any day now," said 'Namgis Chief Bill Cranmer. "[DFO] will be signing off on it and then we are all ready to start construction."
DFO would not confirm Tuesday when its decision would be announced.
"There's no doubt it's going ahead although I would love, love, love to be proven wrong," said Gwen Barlee, policy director for the Wilderness Committee. "Anyone with two eyes in their head knows this is the last place on Earth they should be putting an independent power project because of the high fish values."
The Wilderness Committee and groups such as the B.C. Wildlife Federation, the Steelhead Society of B.C. and the B.C. Federation of Fly Fishers oppose the plan, saying it would harm the river's fish. The Kokish, 15 kilometres east of Port McNeill, has five species of wild salmon, eulachon and steelhead trout.
Up to 45 megawatts of electricity - enough to power 15,000 homes - is to be created by diverting water from the Kokish River into a nine-kilometre underground pipe beside the river. The rush of water from a 20-metre drop would turn turbines to create power.
The application by Kwagis Power, owned by Brookfield Renewable Power and the 'Namgis, received an environmental assessment certificate from the province in December and needs only DFO approval for construction to start.
The Brookfield website says it expects the project to be in operation by 2014.
"DFO has already said the Kokish River is a high value and sensitive fish river, so why on Earth would Ottawa sign off on this extremely unpopular and environmentally damaging project?" Barlee said.
Cranmer defended the project, saying it will result in fish enhancement. "We won't be generating power when the steelhead are running and we are making it easier for them to get up the river and over the falls they have to navigate to get to where they spawn."
Most of the power would be created during winter, when there are extreme run-offs, which often wash away the spawning gravel, Cranmer said. "Our community members are very worried about any harm to fish. We wouldn't do it if it was going to harm the fish," he said.
"When there is not enough water, we are not going to generate power."
© Times Colonist (Victoria) 2012