The Peace River’s flow is now diverted through twin tunnels for the main riverbed works of B.C. Hydro’s Site C dam, opening a dry area of the riverbed for construction of “foundation enhancements” that were identified by geological mapping as a change to the project in late 2019.
The river diversion proceeded on schedule starting Oct. 2, but the additional work and COVID-19 delays mean the completion date and additional costs remain uncertain, NDP leader John Horgan acknowledged in his final campaign event in Vancouver Thursday.
Newly sworn in as premier in 2017, Horgan called for the B.C. Utilities Commission to make a rapid review of the project, which by then had $4 billion invested in the long-considered third dam on the Peace River. That review was “inconclusive,” Horgan said, and the NDP government decided to proceed at a projected cost increased by $1 billion to $10.7 billion.
B.C. Hydro’s annual report in July 2020 notified the government and public of the latest problems, including delays due to COVID-19 restrictions on the huge job site as well as the new geological issues. Before calling the election, then-energy minister Bruce Ralston appointed former deputy finance and transportation minister Peter Milburn to assess the project again.
“But now we are three and a half years later, and new evidence that was not presented at that time is being examined by Mr. Milburn,” Horgan said Oct. 22. “This is absolutely serious for Hydro ratepayers and for the project. I don’t want to diminish it in any way. But I don’t know until I hear from the experts what’s the magnitude of the problem, and what steps we need to take to protect British Columbians.”
In a July progress report to the B.C. Utilities Commission, B.C. Hydro CEO Chris O’Riley said the combined effects of COVID-19 and a series of construction issues have pushed the cost up by an amount not yet known. Those included changes to the main civil works contract, increased costs of reservoir clearing, power line construction and highway realignment, as well as the latest of a series of legal challenges from the West Moberly First Nations.
“Towards the end of December 2019, investigations and analysis of geological mapping and monitoring activities completed during construction identified that some foundation enhancements would be required to increase the stability below the powerhouse, spillway and future dam core areas,” O’Riley wrote in a letter to BCUC chair David Morton.