Environmental journalist Sarah Cox starting visiting the Peace Valley in 2013 to talk to locals about the Peace River Dam, commonly called Site C. These interviews culminated Breaching the Peace: The Site C Dam and a Valley's Stand against Big Hydro (On Point, 2018), which includes the personal stories of people such as expropriated farmers and First Nations leaders. It's an expose of Big Hydro's power to erode land, our rights, and our ability to affordably build alternative clean energy sources.

Sarah Cox lives in Victoria.

Breaching the Peace: The Site C Dam and a Valley's Stand against Big Hydro by Sarah Cox (UBC Press $24.95)

Review by John Gellard

Breaching the Peace by Sarah Cox is an important book about the Site C Dam. That title yields a cascade of kaleidoscopic connotations-insights into this complex history of a river being broken up, of communities being divided , of 'breach of the peace' lawsuits, and of byzantine machinations by BC Hydro.

The Peace River rises in the Rocky Mountain Trench in northern British Columbia, 58 degrees north latitude, trending south, it drains a watershed the size of Ireland.

50 km west of Hudson's Hope, the river turns east through the Peace Canyon, a migration route as old as the dinosaurs. At Hudson's Hope the canyon opens into a wide alluvial valley stretching 83 km to Fort St John, then on into Alberta, ending at the Athabasca Delta.

At Fort St John, the 1100 megawatt Site C Dam is being built. The price is the flooding of thousands of hectares of rich bottom land. The reservoir would stretch back to Hudson's Hope.

The controversial site c dam must be seen against a background of previous "breaches"; of the Peace, where the river has been converted from a life supporting ecosystem into a machine.

The first "breach";, near Hudson's Hope, is the 3,000 megawatt WAC Bennett Dam. A sterile reservoir has replaced a living river system.
Cox writes, "The lattice of rivers and forests ...had been of a wild, dizzying beauty... Rivers like the Finlay and the Parsnip were used as highways ...When the Bennett Dam opened up [in 1968]...some people had to flee so quickly that they lost [everything]";

"Oh it was beautiful,"; says Elizabeth, West Moberly First Nations. "A nice big wide valley. Big beautiful timber... You could run for miles. Lots of animals... Now there's nothing.";

The Bennett Dam is there to generate electricity, but does Williston Lake not provide some benefits? Fishing? Afraid not. The bull trout, full of methyl mercury, are unfit to eat. The caribou are almost extirpated. The West Moberly and the Saulteau First Nations have a captive breeding program. The diseased moose are disappearing. The Tsay Keh Dene who live by the "lake"; still do not have hydro power.

The Williston reservoir is not much good for recreation because of debris and sloughing banks.

20 km downstream is the 700 megawatt Peace Canyon Dam holding back "Dinosaur Lake";. Dinosaur remains are 50 metres under water.
Then the valley widens into a "Garden of Eden";. The river meanders between banks of alluvial Class 1 topsoil. Farms on the north bank facing the sun could produce fruit and vegetables to feed a million people. On the slopes, Class 2-5 soils yield hay. It's 83 km to Fort St John where the 60 metre Site C Dam will rise to drown 100 km of valley if you include the Moberly and Halfway Rivers.

The farmland is not being fully developed because farmers threatened by flooding have hesitated to make the investment.

Ken and Arlene Boon's farm at Bear Flat is well developed. Arlene's grandfather built their house. Highway 29 from Fort St John curves downhill around the farm and separates the alluvial bottom land from the slope. The highway is being rerouted by Hydro through the farmhouse site. There is constant noise from drilling by "The landlord from Hell."; Resisters are carrying on a "yellow stakes"; fundraising campaign.

Other convoluted dealings between the Boons and Hydro included expropriation and an eviction notice for Christmas, 2016, then a reprieve and a lease-back deal. Some farmers proposed bargaining collectively in land sales. Hydro's refusal is seen as a "divide and conquer"; tactic.
The farms have a symbiotic relationship with the wild land. The forests are hunting grounds especially for First Nations. Forested islands allow ungulates to breed and migrate out of reach of predators. The fish are still fit to eat.

Just upstream from the Boons' place is Watson Slough, a 20 hectare wetland called "one of the worlds birding hotspots"; with 130 nesting bird species including trumpeter swans, as well as rare "outlier"; plant species. Hydro began to clear cut here, but was persuaded to leave Watson Slough alone.

A tufa seep is a 'magical' phenomenon whereby mineral laden water seeps over long distances and emerges to create unique mineral formations that support rare plants and animals. About seven tufa seeps will be lost.
Rocky Mountain Fort (RMF) is on the south bank, by the Moberly River, just upstream from the dam site. The Pedersens' farm high on the north bank has an excellent view of it. You can see the machines working and get a glimpse of the landslides-"tension cracks";-that could well drive the cost over the current $12 billion. In 1793, Alexander Mackenzie noted an abundance of bison and wildlife here. Hydro has clear cut the area for a rock debris dump. On New Year's Eve, 2015, Ken Boon and others occupied RMF and were visited by David Suzuki and Grand Chief Stewart Phillip. Hydro hit the occupiers with a $420 million SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) suit for this 'breach of the peace'.

Sarah Cox describes the heroism of dozens of Peace supporters. A perfect symbol is a life size inflatable white elephant seen on the canvassing circuit. Marc Eliesen, head of BC Hydro in the 1990s, said, "Site C is dead";. He called it a "white elephant";.

It's all very well to oppose Site C, but the main question must be answered. Where else are we going to get the 1,100 megawatts to "keep the lights on"; as Christy Clark said, pushing the project to "the point of no return";?
Cox provides answers:

First: Demand for power in B.C. is flat. Site C power, worth $30 a megawatt/hour on the spot market, may cost $100 a megawatt/hour to produce.

Second: The cost of solar power is decreasing but the government is not encouraging development.

Third: B.C.'s total wind capacity is 16,000 megawatts. The Meikle project near Dawson Creek can power 54,000 homes.
Fourth: B.C.'s potential geothermal capacity is 5,500 megawatts.
Fifth: Unused downstream benefits from the Columbia River Treaty would equal Site C capacity. For that we flooded the Arrow Lakes.
Sixth: There is room for additional turbines in the Revelstoke and Mica Dams.

Seventh: There's the standby Burrard Thermal Generating Plant in Port Moody: 950 megawatts.

Eighth: Consider 'pumped storage.' Pump the water up when demand is low, and use the power when demand is high.

Why not pursue these alternatives? The focus has shifted to Site C. After the BCUC report, why has the new NDP government chosen Site C?
Former Hydro head, Marc Eliesen said, "[after the BCUC report]...no sensible rational person could take any other decision than to terminate Site C... a slam dunk.";

Hope springs eternal. "I'm planting a garden and ordering seeds,"; said Arlene Boon.
"Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more.";-Shakespeare, Henry V.

John Gellard's articles have appeared in The Globe & Mail and The Watershed Sentinel.



Breaching the Peace: The Site C Dam and a Valley's Stand against Big Hydro (On Point, 2018) $24.95 978-0-7748-9026-7

[BCBW 2018]