Open house planned to discuss contentious hydroelectric project in Atlin, B.C.

·4 min read
The Atlin hydroelectric project, built in 2009, prevents the community from burning more than 1 million litres of diesel fuel every year.  (Philippe Morin/CBC - image credit)
The Atlin hydroelectric project, built in 2009, prevents the community from burning more than 1 million litres of diesel fuel every year. (Philippe Morin/CBC - image credit)

Residents of Atlin, B.C. will have the chance to share their thoughts and concerns about a proposed hydroelectric project at an open house on Tuesday night.

The proposed Atlin Hydro Expansion Project would upgrade the existing station, built in 2009, to increase its capacity to generate electricity. The plan is by the Tlingit Homeland Energy Limited Partnership (THELP).

The outcome of the project will impact the Yukon, as Yukon Energy has discussed buying the additional power if the project is completed in 2024. The expansion would add 8.5 megawatts of renewable energy to the territory's grid to meet winter demand. Each year it would produce about 45 gigawatt hours of hydroelectricity — enough to power 3,750 Yukon homes a year.

In 2021 THELP applied for environmental permits from the B.C. government. It also applied to the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board for permits related to the project's transmission connection to Jakes Corner, Yukon.

On Jan. 4, the Atlin District Board of Trade will hold an open house at the Recreation Centre Hall to discuss the impacts of the project.

A public forum

Heather Keny, a member of the Atlin District Board of Trade, said the organization does not have an official position on the project and is trying to give people a public forum to voice their concerns.

"We're in the middle of the consultation period right now with the B.C. government so it's important that the community gets together and just voices their opinions or concerns as a group," Keny said.

Keny believes the project would have serious impacts, environmentally and for the community.

"It's within metres of people's homes, our community campground. This penstock that they're talking about, it's going to involve clear-cutting and crossing private properties," she said.

"They're talking about raising the level of Surprise Lake, which they admit would devastate the grayling spawning. It would impact the Pine Creek Falls, which is one of our landmarks for tourism."

The project's proponent falls under the Taku Group of Companies, which is the economic development arm of the Taku River Tlingit First Nation.

Addressing concerns in a 'science-based' way

THELP will be at the event, with its spokesperson saying they want to "repeat the facts about the project."

Peter Kirby, CEO of the Taku Group of Companies, doesn't blame people for having concerns. He said public meetings held in the past were sparsely attended, but he expects residents to come with questions.

"[When] you don't know something, concerns arise. So we've put out accurate information about what we intend to do," Kirby said.

"So what we try to do is address the concerns that people raise and in addressing them, we do it in a science-based, thorough, investigative way."

Philippe Morin/CBC
Philippe Morin/CBC

He pointed to a few instances where plans were amended in response to local feedback. He cited a proposal to run a pipe up nearby Monarch Mountain, but this was changed after local opposition.

In another case, he said there was pushback to a powerhouse being located near the Pine Creek Beach.

"And so we moved it away from the beach. And there's been other mitigating measures we've taken as well. And so getting that information out to a broader audience is what we want to do at every opportunity and this is another opportunity," Kirby said.

Environmental concerns

Atlin resident Judi Urquhart plans to attend and wants the project's proponents to be aware of the "significance" of the impacts.

"My biggest concerns are environmental and the destruction of areas of Pine Creek, especially the wetlands that are down at the mouth, and the grayling spawning areas that are associated with it," Urquhart said.

"As well as the devastation of a lot of the forest in the area where they have to lay down the buried pipes."

The Board of Trade said the expansion project would be located in the middle of the community's recreation reserve. Urquhart said this area was once protected for its cultural and environmental significance.

"This is a habitat for wildlife, for nesting birds. This has quite [an] environmental significance as well," she said.

"These wetlands are going to dry out because 90 per cent of the water is removed. This is going to be a fire hazard to the residential areas that are above the wetlands and beside the wetlands."

For those who say the expansion would spell environmental disaster, Kirby challenged them to read the reports THELP has submitted to the B.C. government.

"There's a response on every issue that's been raised to date on the wildlife, on any environmental impact potential," he said.

He also pointed out that the area was once the site for placer mining during the gold rush and suggested this project would make less of an impact.

"It is one of the things that I wonder about, is how people could watch placer mining … for decades and not worry about that. But a hydro project comes along and people start raising concerns about the environment."

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