Tyson Creek hydropower project update – Aug. 20, 2010

The SCCA has continued with information gathering over the last 5 months. We are now able to clarify past events and also describe what is happing now and what we expect will happen in the near future. Below is a brief account of the whole story, as far as we now understand it.

Tyson The Very Beginning

In December 2009 the SCCA complained to the Ministry of Forest and Range about breech of road building standards at the Tyson project construction site. These concerns are illustrated in the Tyson Creek Virtual Tour. On February 17, 2010 compliance and enforcement personnel responded to our complaint, viewed the site from the air and observed substantial pollution entering the Tzoonie River from the project. The Tzoonie empties into Narrows Inlet and is one of the region’s most spectacular salmon spawning streams.

Regulators Respond

The Water Stewardship Division was notified and they asked Renewable Power Corporation to shut down the facility voluntarily or face a formal order. Renewable shut down the facility on February 19.  The facility had only run for 3 weeks and dropped the lake’s natural level by about 30 feet. What had happened is this; as the lake level dropped, the sheet of ice on the lake’s surface fractured into slabs all around the lake shore edges (see image of the lake and sheet of ice ). One or more of these slabs came to bear on a large sediment deposit at one end of the lake resulting in the sediments (sand, gravel, silt, sand and organic debris) being distributed throughout the lake. The resulting sediment flow was strong enough to do many years worth of ware and tear related damage to the generating station’s machinery. The full extent of impacts to the Tzoonie River, its estuary and Narrows Inlet is unknown.

The Company Acts, the Public Responds

Tzoonie siltOn or about March 20, the company decided to run the facility for 12 hours as an experiment to see if the water would run clear. They didn’t notify the Water Stewardship Division. This resulted in a massive plume of silty water coming down the river and out in Narrows Inlet where it was photographed by local people. These images began circulating around the province and very quickly complaints began piling up at the Ministry of the Environment and the federal offices of Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

Regulators Respond Again

On April 24 the Water Stewardship Division issued a formal order to Renewable Power not to operate the facility “with out the expressed written consent of the Water Stewardship Division”. A very thorough article by Scott Simpson appeared in the Vancouver Sun on May 16). Incredibly, a Renewable Power spokes person stated that the company was seeking relief from regulation, exactly what we don’t want to happen!

Current Situation

Renewable Power did receive a temporary permit to operate on May 27. However, the permit prohibited the company from drawing down Tyson Lake below natural seasonal levels. A second permit has now been issued and it maintains the draw down level prohibition. Automatic water quality measuring and reporting is also now in place and various assessments are underway. Obviously, the company hopes to regain the right to draw down the lake. To do this, they will need to submit a credible and workable plan for avoiding sediment-mobilizing events.

Actions Indicated

We are not confident that the raising and lowering of Tyson Lake can be done in an environmentally responsible manner. Severe risks are inherent in this activity and these are very well illustrated in the history of the project. Over the short term, continued attention to the company’s activities and the responses of regulators will be necessary if environmental values in the Tzoonie watershed are to be maintained. Over the last 9 years, the Province has made it considerably more difficult to access government records and information of all kinds about the activities of its industrial “clients”. However, as advocates we work to get information and circumvent the road blocks put up by government. We have had improve our abilities and will continue, as best we can to provide information about this and other independent hydropower projects.

More Power Projects Coming to the Tzoonie

Ramona LkA second and much larger power project proposal in the Tzoonie River and head of Narrows Inlet has been submitted to the BC Environmental Assessment Office (BCEAO) and will be subject to a BC EA process. NI Holding Corporation, controlled by Renewable Power Corporation, originally proposed the “Stl’ixwim” project as comprised of 6 generating stations, 2 of which involved lake-bottom drilling; one of these is the picturesque Ramona Lake (pictured here) and the other is an un-named lake. A generating station would also be built on the Chickwat Creek, which is the Tzoonie River’s largest tributary.

SCCA Submission

The SCCA participated in the public consultations about the draft Terms of Reference for this project and made a written submission to the BC EAO. On March 11, 2010, the Stl’ixwim Project was awarded an Energy Purchase Agreement with BC Hydro but does not have the required Environment Certificate that is the outcome of a successful EA process. We are expecting that NI Holding Corp., will choose to enter the next of the BCEAO process soon. The process does allow several public input opportunities which we will participate in.

Going Forword

Considering the events and outcomes of the Tyson project, we are determined that the Stl’ixwim project receives the highest level of scrutiny that we can possibly bring to bear. The lesson of the Tyson experience is that superficial environmental assessment and inadequate monitoring and enforcement can combine to cause damage to environment assets and put investments at risk. Developments related to the BC EA process will be posted on the SCCA website so please check in for updates.

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