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Takakia Lake, Haida Gwaii

 

 

TAKAKIA LAKE, RISKS, AND A PUBLIC PROCESS

by Ralph Nelson

 

 

 

Takakia Lake is on my mind. I don't think it wise to risk this place to "the process" - the mill of progress should not grind it up to spit out comfort for a few.

I've been to the Queen Charlotte Power Corporation (QCPC) open house, I knew a bit about some aspects of the Mitchell Inlet power generating plant, but I didn't know enough. I took some time and here's what I found.

Takakia is a high elevation lake on Moresby Island, just north of Gwaii Haanas. The lake flows into Moresby Lake, which feeds the turbines that pass on the output of electric power to Sandspit and the south Graham Island area.

Takakia Lake is still as it always was. It has water in it and bare rock around it. There are a few species of muskegy type plants. No one goes there much. But it is there, and many rely on that. It is the reassurance of a pristine place. A few visit for the quiet beauty and the wide views. Land access is apparently a hike along the ridges from Peel Inlet, south of Pallant Creek.

Queen Charlotte Power Corporation (QCPC) from Vancouver, came in December 1997 to tell us how it was going to be. That was the tone of the open house. A Mr. Eunall spoke for QCPC, and, mildly put, alienated many with his manner. He spoke about the danger of public meetings. Most people at the hall wanted a public meeting, not an open house which is what QCPC was having and we were attending.

Public meetings, Mr. Eunall said, engender "mob mentality". I took offense at the end of his fairly lengthy diatribe. It made no difference. Mr. Eunall said, public meetings are too difficult, and it is too easy for those with a vested interest to sway the crowd. Not that QCPC doesn't have a vested interest. Those attending the open house said various rational things, I thought, but it made no difference to the overall tone of the QCPC presentation.

For representatives of the Queen Charlotte Power Corporation from Vancouver to make statements about us, as mobs, is the best reason for public meetings where everyone must be accountable for their actions and comments. The democratic process is circumvented when individuals with vested interests and company authority can ride rough-shod over public concerns about the outcome of events on what are considered public land - I don't think Haida title has even been considered in this process.

 

IF A DATA HOLE COULD GENERATE MEGA WATTS

There were a lot of holes in the company data presented at the open house. A lot of people were on holiday and most were considering Christmas. There was plenty of information specific to the drilling of holes into Takakia Lake. Things like how the lake wouldn't suffer, and how you wouldn't even see the tunnel from the lake, and how slick this solution to the power supply problem was.

But there was nothing about options to this prospect until people asked. Later the 10% use-reduction factor crept in. I understood this to mean that if we saved 10% of our current power consumption, the need for the Takakia Lake tunnel would be obviated. I understand now that regardless of reduced consumption, the hole is to happen anyway - assuming government approvals. Takakia water is viewed as a contingency plan for dry years at Moresby Lake, regardless of reductions in power demand.

There was no data available for the solution of raising the existing Moresby Lake dam. There were just assurances that it had been looked into, and found not viable. No one there, except Mr. Eunall could speak to this. There were maps shown, of course, but with contour intervals and scales that made them useless. I am not implying anything is being necessarily hidden, but the data was incomplete in spite of public letters urging this option be explored.

At the open house where accountability is a promise, not a given we were assured the data about options would be sent. The Vancouver Island Regional Library system has one copy of the 1993 QCPC Moresby Lake Upgrade Project: Environmental and Socio-Economic Screening Report, and Addendum #1, with letters from 1997. In the report there is no data relevant to upgrading the Moresby Lake dam, even though it was promised. Mr. Eunall stated that it is obvious from the data that the raised-dam option is not viable. So why not show the data? Mr. Eunall says it is coming. He wants to write a single response to all concerns/letters/faxes. My feeling is that it will then come too late to be part of a public process.

Mr. Eunall also said that if someone makes up a $4 million difference we can have the Moresby Lake raised-dam option. Mr. Eunall was reluctant to discuss details of company projects which he seemed to feel was proprietary information. Though he did provide the $2 million Takakia Lake tunnel cost and $6 million Moresby Lake dam upgrade cost readily enough. But Mr. Eunall, the QCPC wants approval from us, the public, to let you use the Lake for a long time and change it forever.

We are repeatedly offered assurances by numerous government agencies in all matters of development whose mandate it is to ensure caution and look at the mistakes that have been made. All we are left with is punitive actions taken after the fact. Haida Gwaii is a small place and errors have large impacts. I urge all to be cautious with our legacy to the children, and our responsibility to the ecosystems. We must be careful what decision we are party to making by our dissent or silent assent.

 

THE HARD CHOICE TO MAKE

Eventually I succeeded in making another phone connection. BC Hydro is not prepared to advertise further for a reduction in power usage; there is only the much reduced Power Smart program. Speaking to BC Hydro's Mr. Ken Boyd on the phone... apparently Mr. Eunall of QCPC's 10% power consumption reduction is not significant to the necessity for the Takakia Lake upgrade project.

"The Sandspit diesels are older than most in the world", Mr. Boyd said. Apparently they are expensive to run (in the environmental and dollars sense) and something must be done. "They are also too expensive to remove", he said.

But surely, I said, some form of independent back-up power-generation is required anyway, especially in light of the situations back East [Quebec ice-storms] just now. "That decision hasn't been made." said Mr. Boyd. I think if that decision were made first, it might obviate the necessity for the Takakia Lake upgrade.

On the other hand, given that the Takakia Lake project upgrade operates according to plan, hydro-electric "power production from QCPC will just about equal demand." said Mr. Boyd. "Power consumption demand has been increasing by 1% or 2% per year for the past years." Mr. Boyd did say it is difficult to project demand, because of uncertainties in MB's operations and demand from tourism etcetera.

So it seems to me that damming Takakia Lake is only another in a series of steps behind a projected increase in demand. When Takakia Lake is dammed there will be another plan in the works to produce power. Maybe another lake will be "required". Maybe another set of generators anyway. Perhaps this is better than aging generators belching diesel fumes. It certainly would be better if the various players involved would freely provide the data to us all; we could all think of appropriate decisions for our own consumption/lives - we do live here.

It turns out the Takakia Lake option is probably merely a stop-gap measure (Mr. Eunall says, "incremental"). The project as described, is not a satisfactory answer to keeping up with power demands. Provision for another generating station using Takakia waters is being made, Mr. Eunall said, and perhaps that is prudent.

My talk with Mr. Boyd from B.C. Hydro would seem to belie the probable truth of that - the upgrade is likely to only provide for current consumption. And even with the upgrade, a certain level of rainfall is presumed, and there is no assurance that adequate water will remain in the lake to generate sufficient power to meet current consumption in dry years.

 

A PROCESS SHOULD BE TRANSPARENT LIKE THE WATER

The public process as we practice it now, is fraught with failure. It shouldn't be so hard to get the information we need. This process has not been the way to help each of us find solutions. Let us be more open.

I stick by my call for the conservation of power, though it may not answer the projected long term increases in demand. Where is Mr. Eunall with his indeterminate sum of money to campaign Islanders to lower their power consumption? He is waiting for our "significant cooperation." When QCPC has Islands approval on Takakia then he is prepared to sit with us in the effort to advertise for power conservation, but first our personal and community approval. As usual with these things, it is not a simple matter to decide unless it is reduced to the question of whether or not we have the right to demand the destruction of another small part of wilderness to satisfy our consumption.

We who live here need to make decisions as to the value of Takakia Lake. Maybe Takakia Lake is worth Mr. Eunall's quoted project cost of $2 million dollars, as is - unspoiled. These are small Islands we live on, and there are not many lakes.

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