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Proposed gas plant too close to homes, farms say Peace residents

A proposed natural gas project near Dawson Creek has residents concerned about the impact it will have on agriculture, public health and property value in the region.

The project's proponent, Spectra Energy, announced its intention to build the project in June of this year. It has purchased 320 acres of land in the region and filed an application to the National Energy Board (NEB) for approval to build a gas processing plant, pipelines and transmission lines. The project is slated to be complete by 2013 and could handle 200 million cubic feet of gas per day. The processing plant itself -- where raw gas is turned into useable fuel -- would sit on 40 acres that is currently part of the Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR).

Brian Underhill, executive director of the Agricultural Land Commission, says that normally when a gas plant is proposed on land in the ALR, the gas company would file an application with the commission to remove that land. However, because the project is federally regulated (by the NEB) it isn't bound by municipal or provincial legislation.

Underhill said Spectra informed the commission of its proposed project in the fall. "We are currently looking at it from a legal point of view but we have not determined what our position is," Underhill told the Tyee.

Last Tuesday, Nov. 30, the NEB held a public hearing on the project. Colleen Borodula, a rancher who lives in a small community southeast of Dawson Creek, was one of the presenters. According to transcripts of the hearing, she told the board that she and her husband were "not opposed to the Dawson plant per se; we are opposed to the location in a populated area and the loss of valuable agricultural land."

"In September of this year the B.C. Auditor General issued a report on the agricultural land reserve," said Borodula. "The report says that. . . less than five per cent of the province's land base is suitable agricultural. . . and much less is considered prime agricultural land. This piece of land is productive farmland."

I saw at the meetings this morning that it would cost more for Spectra to put the plant further out in an unpopulated area, clearing land, developing their own roads," Borodula said. "Spectra Energy's revenues for 2009 were $4.552 billion. Why should local landowners see their properties depreciate because of this plant?"

In April, residents in and around Dawson Creek circulated a petition outlining their concerns. Signatory Alanda Stables told Northeast News that she was not necessarily opposed to gas development, but was concerned about the projects' proximity to homes. According to the article, 21 residents are within a three-kilometer radius of the site.

Gary Weilinger, is the vice president of strategic development and external affairs for Spectra's western operations. He told The Tyee the company chose that site because of existing natural gas infrastructure in the vicinity, including a compressor station and a metering station. "It's kind of in the centre of a confluence of natural gas infrastructure," he said. "We thought that would be a good spot because again, your're minimizing whatever infrastructure you would need."

Weilinger said Spectra asked for a public hearing "because we know there are some diverging interests in terms of natural gas development in the region" and said trying to find a location that everybody agrees with would be difficult. He said that that Spectra will follow ALC guidelines for removing land from the reserve, which includes removing and storing soil from the site so that "in the event the plant ceases to exist decades from the now. . . it would be returned."

Weilinger said, ideally, a decision from the NEB would come in early January. He told The Tyee that Spectra would like to set up a citizen advisory committee in order to provide a forum for ongoing communication as the project develops.

Colleen Kimmett reports for The Tyee.

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