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In Kaslo, a Big No to River Power

More than 1,000 turn out to oppose Kootenay project.

Rafe Mair 6 Jul

Rafe Mair writes a Monday column for The Tyee. Read previous columns by Rafe Mair here. He also acts as a spokesperson for the Save Our Rivers Society.

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Kaslo rally against Glacier/Howser river power project. Photo by Damien Gillis.

A couple of weeks ago, there seemed to be cause for celebration for those who join with marine researcher Alexandra Morton in wanting to see the end of fish farming in the coastal waters of British Columbia.

Morton had won a Supreme Court judgment that, among other things, ruled that only the federal government had jurisdiction over fish farms.

Marine Harvest, the principal Norwegian fish farmer operating British Columbia, appealed aspects of the decision, but not the constitutional finding that only the federal government calls the shots for fish farms.

This caused rejoicing among many fish farm opponents.

But others, including me, smelled a rat.

Well, a rat there indeed was.

I have been reliably informed that the provincial government has already made the necessary bureaucratic moves to transfer this file back to the tender mercies of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) and that Marine Harvest abandoned the constitutional part of their appeal having been assured that nothing would change.

Both the provincial and federal governments, after the Liberals won the last election with 22 per cent of registered voters, have arrogantly assumed that the battle for our rivers and fish has ended.

In fact, it has barely begun.

From the coast to Kaslo

It continues, for example, in the Kootenays.

A death in the family prevented me from attending a meeting in Kaslo on June 23. However, my colleague, filmmaker Damien Gillis, was there and reports:

"It was a watershed moment in the campaign to protect B.C.'s rivers from private river power projects as 1,100 citizens packed the high school gym in Kaslo, (a town of just 1,000!) to speak out for their  rivers at one of three public comment meetings regarding the environmental assessment application for the largest proposed project in the Kootenays -- a 125-megawatt, five-river diversion referred to as  the Glacier/Howser project, in the spectacular Purcell wilderness northeast of Kootenay Lake. Not a single one in three hours spoke for the project." 

The government representatives and proponent Axor Group -- a Montreal-based construction giant -- had refused myriad requests from citizens and local politicians to hold one of the meetings in nearby Nelson, the unofficial capital of the region, which would have afforded access to a much larger population base.

The move clearly backfired, reminding me of the time last year when the promoter of a comparable proposal on the Upper Pitt  River booked a tiny venue in Pitt Meadows only to see hundreds show up, forcing the fire marshal to shut the meeting down and the company to hold another meeting in a larger venue. This time more than 1,000 showed up and the following day the environment minister pulled the plug on the project's controversial transmission line through a Class A provincial park. 

That night, I remarked to a colleague that this would be the end of the project. It was a fatal misstep by the promoter.

I had a similar feeling from Kaslo, though this one is hardly over.

A resounding No

Far from being deterred by the denial of a meeting in Nelson, local environmental groups banded together to provide bus transportation and other means for getting people to the Kaslo meeting. The result was staggering. 

People of all ages came with costumes, banners, marching bands, meticulously researched and passionately articulated speeches. First they rallied outside the school before the  meeting, then they lined up one after another at the microphone to say a resounding "no" to the project and the whole idea of privatizing our rivers for power we don't need and can't use. Why can't we use it? Because the bulk of this power would come in spring, the time of our lowest demand and highest supply) vowing that this project would be stopped.

As local NDP MLA Michelle Mungall told the company to rousing applause, "These people are not uneducated about your project.  They understand it.  They don't like it.  They don't want it."

After a disappointing provincial election for those who care about protecting our rivers, fish and wildlife, this night served to re-energize the movement around the province and showed this battle is really just getting started. And the people of the Kootenays, famous for their love of nature and commitment to protecting it, are once again leading by example.

Civil disobedience ahead

I do not and never have condoned violence but it would be irresponsible of me, after my experience as official spokesperson for the Save Our Rivers Society, not to warn that people around the province are fighting mad about both the rivers and fish farm issue, which are two sides of the same coin.

They are not prepared to allow companies with the blessings of the governments they have helped finance, destroy our rivers and wipe out our salmon.

What will happen is all too clear. There will be people lying down in front of dirt movers, followed by a lawsuit by the companies who will then get injunctions from a court. Turning civil disobedience into a crime in this way is the usual gimmick employed by environment-ravishing companies with the blessing of governments.

Under such circumstance, Harriet Nahanee and Betty Krawczyk went to jail for attempting to block the destruction of nature on Eagleridge Bluff in West Vancouver.

This time around it will not just be two very courageous women ready to risk the consequences. As I assess the situation, it will be many -- to the point of endless -- protesters.

Inconvenient facts

It would be a different matter if the fish farm and rivers issues were simply controversies where one side said they were right and the other side said, no, they were right.

But in this case, the science and the facts are not in issue.

Every single independent fisheries scientist to be found confirms Alexandra Morton's findings on the slaughter of migrating Pink and Chum salmon by lice from fish farms which is only the worst of many environmental assaults made by Marine Harvest and friends.

Not can it be denied that huge environmental damage is done by independent power projects as they dam and divert to produce power for the profit of shareholders of large corporations.

It cannot be denied that this independent power can, for the most part, only be produced during the spring run-off when BC Hydro doesn't need the power. The president of one of the largest companies, Plutonic, has said "one would have to be in a coma" not to know this power was for export. The record is clear that this power has been bought by BC Hydro, on instructions of the Campbell government, at prices double or more the amount BC Hydro can sell it for into the U.S.

Fulfilling these orders, now in excess of $31 billion, obviously will drive our electricity bills, both industrial and at home, through the roof and bankrupt BC Hydro.

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