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Victory for the Ashlu (BC)

posted January 14, 2005
by Thomas O'Keefe

article photo 1

It's been a long process but this week the Squamish Lilloett Regional District (SLRD) Board issued their decision and denied the re-zoning request required for construction of the proposed Ashlu Hydroelectric Project. This decision followed a long series of public meetings and emotional testimony. In reaching their decision, the SLRD Board recognized the numerous concerns put forward by those who expressed opposition to the project, noting that the project did not fit with the SLRD's own policies on these projects, due to the lack of community support and other factors.

To the paddling community, which has from the outset noted that there are problems with the approval process for these projects, and with the unplanned development of power projects, Stuart Smith and the folks with the Whitewater Kayaking Association of BC extend a tremendous thank you, for the years of tremendous effort which have gone into the ongoing battle to have the value of the Sea to Sky waterways recognized. We all hope that an outcome of this process has been a recognition for the need of a comprehensive regional-based planning effort so that future long battles can be avoided.

For those of us who are users of region's waterways, we have taken a great step forward towards ensuring stewardship of the resources that define the region and are the focus of our passion for wild rivers. They fulfill not only our needs for recreation and employment, but are the backdrop to a way of life. This victory represents a legacy valued not only by the paddling community, but future residents and visitors to the special area that our friends in the Squamish paddling community call home. This victory did not come easily and bridges within the community will need to be mended. In particular we as a paddling community have an obligation to demonstrate respect for the lands of the Squamish Nation who looked upon the hydropower development as an opportunity to bring a long-term economic benefit to their community.

Thanks to Stuart Smith for providing the information for keeping the community informed and providing local leadership on this issue, and special thanks to AW member Shane Robinson for representing the interests of AW's membership and helping rally folks from the States. Thanks also to those who value the tremendous world-class paddling opportunities in the Sea to Sky corridor and who took the time to write in: you made a difference.

Summary of Issues Raised at the Public Hearing
The following synopsis is taken from the SLRD staff report and provides a brief overview of the key issues raised at the public hearings and in written comments (view the full staff report ):

  1. Importance Of The Ashlu Project To The Squamish Nation - Several members of the Squamish Nation spoke with considerable emotion on the value of this project to their community. The project is clearly an important initiative for the Squamish Nation members, providing both job skills and meaningful employment, and an opportunity for longer-term economic benefit for the community when the project is fully owned by the Squamish Nation in 40 years. The project represents a chance to become contributors to society, and to realize benefits from development in their traditional territory. The project is considered environmentally responsible, in keeping with the social values of the Squamish, and speakers noted that Ledcor has treated them respectfully. Several speakers also mentioned that recreational use has not brought them any jobs, and kayakers have not sought their permission for use of the river.
  2. Impacts on Upper Squamish Valley residents - Residents of the Upper Squamish Valley have participated in the review of this project since the initial public meetings were held, and have, overall, consistently opposed the project. Potential noise and traffic impacts during construction, proximity of the laydown areas to residences, and further industrialization of a highly scenic and valuable area were key issues mentioned. Many speakers also indicated that the information provided by Ledcor has been misleading regarding the size of weir/dam and reservoir being created, and that a project of this size should go through a full provincial Environmental Assessment. Residents also indicated the importance of the Ashlu for recreation use and businesses that flourish in the valley, and expressed concerns that there is no overall plan for IPP development. It is also noted that a very small number of speakers from this community spoke in favour of the project.
  3. Impacts on Kayaking and Recreational Use - Many speakers and letters from individuals and recreation associations indicated the value of the Ashlu, particularly the box canyon, as a "gem" and as a world-class attraction that is widely known and used by the kayaking community, including many residents of the United States. Many also noted that the mitigation measures proposed were not acceptable, and that the real attraction of the river is that it is free-flowing without dams or other structures. Other speakers also noted the growing economic importance of the recreation industry, and that there is no overall plan to determine which rivers should be protected. Many speakers also noted they were not against IPP development, but were opposed to a project on the Ashlu, which is more valuable left as is.
  4. Lack of Overall IPP/Energy Strategy - this issue was raised throughout the hearing by many speakers, who reiterated the need for the LRMP process or other overall strategy to address the large number of potential IPP projects in the SLRD. Other speakers noted the current "gold rush" approach to approval of individual IPP's does not consider the longterm or cumulative effects of the projects and transmission lines associated with up to 60 more IPP's. An overall strategy is needed to prioritize the streams that are suitable for IPP developments.
  5. Level of Environmental Assessment for 49 KW size - The need for a full provincial Environmental Assessment due to the project being submitted just below the 50 MW EA threshold was raised by numerous speakers. Speakers indicated that the EA process is transparent and includes a much broader level of input on social and economic issues. Ledcor also addressed this issue, indicating that the same provincial and federal agencies and criteria are used in both the CEAA and EA processes.
  6. Economic Value of the Project to the Local Economy - A large number of employees, contractors and professionals associated with Ledcor and Peter Kiewit and Sons, as well as other individuals, spoke to the economic benefits of the project through local employment and purchase of goods and services, and indicated that the project has received all environmental approvals, and that the project can co-exist with recreation/tourism.
  7. Green Power - A number of speakers stated support for the project on the basis that power was needed in the province, and that IPP's provide clean, renewable energy and should be supported.

Background

American Whitewater has issued past action alerts on this proposal and worked with local volunteers to help raise the visibility of this important issue:

More information on the Ashlu with some photos at Paddleguides.com .

Photo of Fifty-Fifty by Erik Schertzl



Associated Projects

  • Protecting the Ashlu (BC)
    A hydropower project is now being constructed on this wonderful creek in Southwest British Columbia.