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REPORTING · 15th July 2012
Video attached below

BC Minister Pat Bell withheld his signature on a permit to amend the Rio Tinto Alcan (RTA) Kemano Power facility water Licence. RTA has been busy at the Kemano generation facilities preparing the second tunnel to use as a back up for their primary power source. On Friday, according to our sources, this work came to a sudden halt.

“The first time I was approached on this was about three weeks ago”, stated Bell as he described the sensitivity and history surrounding Kemano. “I think it is something people are going to want to know about in the Nechako Basin and so I’ve asked Alcan to go out and talk to three of the communities that I think are likely the three flash points, the three ones that are most significant in the overall equation. I asked them to do that three weeks ago and they started that process and as of last Thursday they finally made contact with the last community I’d asked them to reach.”

“The licence amendment, in my view needs some level of consultation with communities, there needs to be dialogue around it. I don’t think it’s appropriate for communities to find out that a licence amendment of this nature is signed off on without their opportunity to at least have some dialogue around it. RTA probably should have done that, they’ve been around for long enough that they know [..] anytime you start playing around in the Nechako watershed it’s likely to be an issue.”

Bell stated the councils of all three communities; Kitimat, Vanderhoof and Prince George will all be meeting to discuss the amendment claiming Kitimat will be meeting this week while Prince George will not be meeting until the 30th. In the meantime the work at Kemano has come to a halt and the workers have been pulled off of the site. Bell stated the permit is not required until the new tunnel is connected to the old one, or breaking through to the reservoir, claiming they are not at that point right now so they could continue to work.

According to Skeena MLA Robin Austin, the application for the permit was put in over a year ago to complete the portion of the second tunnel that wasn’t completed. The application received environmental approval and RTA consulted with five First Nation communities most affected by the Nechako reservoir, four of which essentially provided a green light to the process. The fifth, the Wet’suwet’en, agreed to work with RTA on the amendment application.

“They're using no extra water and there is no turbine capacity so this is not Kemano completion”, stated Austin, “So on the basis of getting the environmental approval they started to do the work. It’s a seven hundred million dollar capital project, so it’s huge.”

Austin explained the work began several months ago and how RTA built a camp at the site to house the workers.

“On Friday, Pat Bell, who is the Minister that has the RTA file, did not sign off on the water licence that would enable them to put water into that tunnel.”

Austin described how RTA was shocked and surprised as they were not asking to use more water, they simply needed the amendment to use the new tunnel.

“So the CEO of Rio Tinto Alcan shut everything down and said ‘look we have spent over a hundred million dollars so far on this project, we started this on the basis that there would be no big deal, we got four letters out of five from the First Nations and are working with the one who has concerns about it, and we have our environmental approval,’ so to cut a long story short she ordered everything shut down and the workers sent home.”

Austin stated he knew about the application a year and a half ago and claimed it made sense. The second tunnel would provide a back up for the new smelter. The existing tunnel has been in use for 50 years and prior to the completion of the new smelter it would be reasonable to ensure the power generation facilities were refurbished and secure.

Although RTA media spokesperson Colleen Nyce has not yet returned our call, Austin confirmed she advised him they began taking the workforce off of the Kemano site Friday afternoon.

The concerns raised by residents are how this might affect the new smelter construction particularly under the pressure of the current contract negotiations with the Union.

“They did not make this application conditional.” stated Austin, “Paul Henning told me a year and a half ago that the board was not linking these two projects, like they’re not saying, ‘if we don’t get the new tunnel were not building the smelter’, however it’s kind of critical in terms of planning to have a back up tunnel when you’re building a brand new project, and that smelter will run, presumably, for fifty or sixty years.”

On June 22, 2012, BC Hydro appeared at the Regional District Kitimat Stikine (RDKS) Boardroom to discuss their new transmission plans for the Northwest part of BC. A significant part of the discussions were the upgrade of the transmission line from the Terrace substation to Kitimat. They have begun the planning now and expect to formalize their decisions by the fall of this year. BC Hydro project Manager, Robert Smith, spoke about upgrading the existing 287KV line and later constructing a new 500KV grid to a new substation in Kitimat. The argument for the upgrade was the new increased power requirement for the proposed LNG projects as well the new smelter.

Kitimat Councillor Phil Germuth questioned the logic and the timing. Almost all LNG plants produce their own power by burning the natural gas they already own. The BC government has amended the clean air act to allow this to happen. As the smelter was years away from being completed he asked why they were rushing to complete the transmission upgrade immediately. He went so far as to suggest the Union contract negotiations might be behind this rush.

If the contract negotiations were difficult or unsuccessful RTA could potentially lock out the workers and just sell power if the transmission grid was sufficiently upgraded.

See video attached below

All of this emerging controversy and urgent attention appears to be around the timing. If the application was made a year and a half ago, why did the BC Government and Pat Bell only make enquiries of RTA ten days ago? And why did RTA only begin addressing these concerns during the Union Contract negotiations?

Minister Bell suggested the community of Prince George will not even be discussing this matter until the 30th of July and this community was one he requested RTA receive feedback from. This would mean a full two weeks of no work.

Bell stated they didn’t have to stop working as they did not require the permit to continue, they were not yet at the point where they were close to connecting. When we asked if pulling their workers out was a pressure tactic, Bell responded, “You never know, it could be.”
If it quacks like a duck
Comment by Linda M on 18th July 2012
Timing really is everything, isnt it? As usual something smells bad here with all this happening right in time for contract negotiations.
Another thing I find disturbing is the head of RTA stopping work , when it wasnt necessary Are all those people out of work or did they place them somewhere else? Does she even care? Probably not.
Enbridge behind this?
Comment by Bill Vollrath on 18th July 2012
Somebody, during a discussion about this on another forum actually suggested that Enbridge has paid somebody to make this scare happens. I can't believe how quiet the peanut gallery is on this...Do we see what is going on in Kemano? They're digging a second tunnel just to have a backup plan? Yeah, right...Keep it up Pat Bell...You're forcing people to take notice.
You are right it smells fishy.
Comment by Apocalypse Now on 17th July 2012
But for once Pat Bell might actually be doing his job properly. RTA is actually asking for more water through the new tunnel. In the whole scheme of things it is probably a miniscule amount but it still is a variance to what they were allowed. Mr. Sanou ask your self this,would a multi billion dollar company even have started this work with out the understanding they had the go ahead to proceed? All it will take is to grease a few palms just like they did when the city took the province to court. Money can buy you anything now a days , even loyalty until the money dries up.
Bell Kemano Really?
Comment by Bill Vollrath on 15th July 2012
After a cursory glance at this artical I get the sense that what Bell is doing is trying to ensure that the people have a say in what goes on in their environment...or at least make it LOOK like that. He'll sign it...unless there's labour unrest behind it all...which is understandable if it is that. Local workers have a lot to fear...this could be a planned scare aimed at the labour unions...Think about it...Big wig Liberal dude "threatens" to shut down big business? Somethings fishy there...