Council members praised the broad scope of a Request For Expression of Interest (RFEI) for a community power project on Pemberton Creek, but didn’t hear the same level of enthusiasm for the document from a packed gallery at Tuesday’s (Jan. 22) meeting.
The RFEI appeared in a public meeting for the first time Tuesday and was approved, meaning the call for submissions is now active.
Chief Administrative Officer Daniel Sailland told council that “the net has been cast wider” than just a community power project within the RFEI.
“We wanted to make sure that the language properly reflected … the community needs and values, and also opened up the door so that we could take a look at alternative projects,” said Sailland. “Any proponent (has) the ability to mix and match various elements that are of interest to the community.”
Sailland also stressed that there is no obligation for the village to pursue any submissions that may come in response to the RFEI.
Since the Pemberton Creek watershed is within traditional Lil’wat territory, objectives for both the village and Mount Currie are included as guidelines for any respondents to the RFEI. Among them are increased social benefit, employment opportunities, revenue sources and overall emission reduction, plus others.
All councillors said they were pleased with the contents of the RFEI, but its approval led to a half-hour question period with many local residents raising concerns about a future project.
Many questions were asked about the specifics of the project and potential impacts to the environment and surrounding properties, as well as the associated public engagement process.
Mayor Jordan Sturdy said that until any submissions are received, any talk about impacts to the Pemberton Creek area was “pre-supposing the outcome,” as it is still months before council will have a project to consider.
He also noted that any submissions could require actions such as re-zoning, development permit areas or others that trigger a public comment period.
“We have no idea what’s out there or what may come to us,” said Sturdy. “Any approvals would require public consultation and public discussion — this is a big deal.”
Council was asked if there was pressure from the province to act on the water licence. Sailland said that wasn’t the “driving force” behind developing the RFEI, but indicated that the province has the ability to rescind a water licence if the rights holder is not actively looking to use it. The village owns the water licence for hydro generation and drinking water access.
The RFEI is scheduled to close March 28. Any submissions will be reviewed over the month that follows before a proponent, if any, is selected.
Innergex provides update
Run-of-river power projects remained a topic later on Tuesday during committee of the whole, as Upper Lillooet Hydro project proponents Innergex had representatives on hand to provide an update to council.
The project received certification from the B.C. Environmental Assessment Office earlier this month. New project manager Krys Muniak, who moved into the role two months ago, provided a look at projected timelines, required next steps and fielded questions from council about the potential benefits to Pemberton.
Innergex is in the process of selecting contractors for construction on the three generating stations associated with the project. Once one is selected, Muniak said the company will hold job fairs in Pemberton and Mount Currie in conjunction with the contractor. Those events are roughly scheduled for April.
Construction is scheduled to begin in June, with the Boulder Creek facility projected to be up and running by summer 2015, with the remaining two expected to be ready in 2016. Muniak said Innergex and the contractor-to-be-named still need to obtain dozens of permits before ground is broken.
Sturdy received positive responses from Innergex officials when asking if they would still be willing to provide stream-flow data in the interest of flood protection, as well as to continue discussions regarding taxation benefits for the village.
“The (Innergex-owned) Rutherford Creek project came into the Village of Pemberton boundary and we’re certainly wanting to understand … the company’s thoughts and willingness to enter into those same sorts of discussions,” said Sturdy. Muniak said he thought it was in the interest of both parties to pursue that discussion further.