BC Hydro has inked what it’s calling a landmark deal with three First Nations groups that had fought plans to build a massive power transmission line between Merritt and Coquitlam.
But the project isn’t out of the woods yet.
Dubbed the Interior to Lower Mainland (ILM) line, the 255-km connection would be Hydro’s biggest expansion project in 30 years.
The $725-million expansion, bringing power from the Interior to Metro Vancouver via the Meridian Substation on Coquitlam’s Westwood Plateau, had been held in legal limbo by more than a dozen First Nations groups along the proposed project route.
The B.C. Utilities Commission ruled in February Hydro had not adequately consulted with the groups about the project’s impacts on First Nations lands and sent both sides back into negotiations.
On Aug. 26, BC Hydro announced three of those groups — the Upper Nicola Band, the Okanagan Nation Alliance and the Nlaka’pamux Nation Tribal Council — had signed an agreement on the project.
Greg Reimer, BC Hydro’s executive VP of transmission and distribution, told Black Press that while details of that agreement are confidential, they do include direct financial benefits to the First Nations groups.
“The agreement has a number of components: There is an amount of financial compensation [and] there are direct-award contracts and cooperation on future energy development opportunities,” Reimer said.
He added that while Hydro is still in talks with several other First Nations groups along the proposed Merritt-Coquitlam line, the three groups now onboard with the project were previously “some of the most active” in their opposition to the project.
“We have been in consultation with these folks for several years,” Reimer said. “They certainly had been active in terms of discussions with us as well as exercising their legal remedies where they haven’t supported what we’ve been doing.”
Most of that resistance was in securing recognition for First Nations land title rights — something band leaders said had been ignored in the past.
If negotiations are settled with the remaining First Nations soon, Hydro hopes to start work on the line and towers later this fall with an anticipated completion date of fall 2014, Reimer said.
The Interior to Lower Mainland project is designed to feed a projected 40-per-cent increase in energy demand in the province over the next 20 years, with much of that demand coming from the Lower Mainland.
Grand Chief Stewart Phillip of the Okanagan Nation Alliance and president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs said reaching the agreement after four years of negotiations with Hydro was a testament to “the power of unity.”
“As a result, BC Hydro has committed to a new era of reconciliation, trust and meaningful strategic engagement for all their activities on our territories,” Phillip added.
Reimer estimates that up to 543 person-years of employment would be created through the construction of the transmission project, but couldn’t say how many jobs that might translate to locally in Coquitlam or at any particular spot along the line.
Much of the high-voltage line will follow existing hydro corridors, while 74 kilometres will require new hydro rights-of-way and approximately 60 kilometres of the line will require widening of existing corridors.