Cheslatta plan proposed hydroelectric project; will work with RTA on water licence issues

On Monday, Cheslatta Carrier Nation Chief Richard Peters handed over a water licence application to FrontCounterBC manager Tim Mergen.

Another hydroelectric project is being proposed for northern British Columbia.

However, this one is being viewed as an environmental restoration project more than a power project. And, it will go a long way towards righting a First Nation injustice.

On Monday, Cheslatta Carrier Nation Chief Richard Peters handed over a water licence application to FrontCounterBC manager Tim Mergen.

The application is the start of Nechako River Legacy Project, a $280 million project that would see water directed from the Kenney Dam reservoir back into the old Nechako River and the construction of a 45-megawatt hydroelectric project.

“Submitting this application formally starts the process of getting back the water that was taken from us 62 years ago when the government issued a private company license to all of the water in Cheslatta Traditional Territory,” said Peters.

That occurred when the Kenney Dam was built in 1952. The result was the flooding of a large portion of the Cheslatta territory, including cemeteries.

Even though it was 62 years ago, remains are still being discovered in Cheslatta Lake, the latest being last week.

“Until the Cheslatta is back to a state it was formrly at, we will continue to find bones,” said Peters. “It’s a very painstaking event to go and find human remains and try to find out who they belong to. People can’t relate to that idea of us finding our ancestors in the lake.”

Water release from the Skins Lake Spillway causes water fluctuations in Cheslatta Lake, which then erodes the shoreline uncovering the human remains. The Nechako River Legacy Project is designed to stop the flooding of Cheslatta Lake and release the reservoir water directly into the old Nechako River. That would result in water flowing through a five-mile long course in the Nechako canyon that has been dry since 1952.

The work now for the Cheslatta is two-fold – get all the permits and approvals in place, and raising enough money to fund the project.

The permits and approvals include securing a electricity purchase agreement with BC Hydro and an agreement with Rio Tinto Alcan, which currently holds the water licence for 100 per cent of the water in the Nechako.

“Once we get an energy purchase in place, then we’re going to seek private investors to finance the project,” said Mike Robertson, senior policy advisor for the Cheslatta. “There possibly could be some federal and provincial funding, but we’re not counting on that.”

The key discussions will be with Rio Tinto Alcan.

“The same water is going to be coming downstream, we just need to hold the licence ourselves in order to finance and get the approvals,” said Peters. “But, of course, Alcan also owns the Kenney Dam so we have to come to arrangements on access and some property out there.”

The project will be adjacent to the Kenney Dam, basically another spillway. The project will have to go through an environmental review process. If all the pieces fall into place, the Cheslatta are optimistic that they could begin construction within three years.

Human remains that are being found are being examined at UNBC. The Cheslatta are building a tomb for the remains and will eventually re-bury the remains.

– Bill Phillips, Prince George Free Press