So much at risk if Site C continues… yet I still don’t think John Horgan has the courage to stop it. Where does this leave residents downstream?

If you had told me back in 2015 that John Horgan would go on to continue building site c, would keep BC Hydro on the same track as the BC Liberals had, trigger an unneeded election in a pandemic and eventually make a Christy Clark appointed bureacrat who objected to the BCUC review his deputy minister….I would have shook my head, thought you were crazy and laughed.

Yet here we are, January 2021 and I’m still writing about this idiocy of a public project that will go down as the biggest boondoggle BC has ever seen.

The Globe and Mail editorial board has delivered a piece worthy of reading and since we know the Milburn report is complete and cabinet and treasury board are busy working on yet another set of justifications why they cannot stop the dam, I thought you should read this. It appears to have gone behind a paywall since I first saw the link, so with apologies in advance to G&M, I have it posted in full below ( seriously, everyone’s broke, just make these editorials free ffs)

The report must have landed on British Columbia Premier John Horgan’s desk with a thud. It was not a welcome Christmas present.The report in question is an independent assessment of the troubled Site C hydroelectric dam under construction on the Peace River in the province’s northeast. It was scheduled to hit the Premier’s desk in the days before Christmas, and could be made public as soon as this week.

It will be grim. How grim is the question.

Last summer, BC Hydro revealed Site C was in big trouble. A shaky foundation on the river’s right bank threatened the stability of the dam, and costs were spiralling. The $10.7-billion project was already over budget, with about half the money spent. Mr. Horgan ordered an independent review and said halting Site C for good was possible.

“If the science tells us and the economics tells us that it’s the wrong way to proceed, we will take appropriate action,” the Premier said.

If this sort of story sounds familiar – big dam, big promises and big problems – that’s because the saga of Site C has many prequels in the world of hydroelectric megaprojects. Backers exaggerate the benefits and minimize the challenges; then construction starts and predictable surprises pop up like weeds. What started life as a reasonable idea is suddenly twice as expensive – and no longer so reasonable.

In Newfoundland and Labrador, the Muskrat Falls dam is, at $13.1-billion, more than double its original budget. It has pushed the province to the financial brink. Ottawa, which had guaranteed $7.9-billion of project debt, stepped in again in mid-December and deferred $844-million in payments. Power is finally supposed to flow late next year.

The feds are also aiming to make Muskrat Falls viable – or are they throwing good money after bad? – by backing the so-called Atlantic Loop, a network to carry the electric power to Atlantic Canada.

For B.C., there is still time to turn back at Site C, as difficult and financially gutting a choice as that may be. Killing the project now means $6-billion-plus spent for zero power. But it may make sense, if pushing forward means a final bill at upwards of $15-billion.

There is bipartisan blame for this mess, which is decades in the making. There are two large dams on the Peace River, one completed in 1968 and the second in 1980. They have supplied plentiful and affordable power to the province. The plan had always been for a third dam. In 1967, a spot near the Alberta border, Site E, was seen as the best location. The terrain was firm, but it was rejected because of cost.

Instead, a decade later, the seemingly cheaper but geologically troublesome Site C was chosen.

In the 2000s, building Site C became a priority of the BC Liberals. It was exempted from an independent review and construction started – with a budget of $8.8-billion – in 2015. Former premier Christy Clark promised to get the work beyond the point of no return. In 2017, the NDP formed government. They had opposed Site C but Mr. Horgan decided to push forward. Mike Harcourt, a former NDP premier, in 2017 called Site C a “clear, unmitigated disaster.” And that was when only $2-billion had been spent.

More warnings came behind closed doors, before finally spilling out last summer.

Mr. Horgan’s first big decision as Premier in 2017 was whether to continue construction at Site C. The first big decision of his second term will once again be Site C.

Is the project already so far along that stopping it makes no sense?

In October, the C.D. Howe Institute released an analysis from two hydro experts, which concluded that the case for Site C is “getting weaker.” At $10.7-billion, it is only “marginally economic.” Cancellation, the report said, should be on the table if costs jump. At $15-billion, it makes more sense to shutter Site C, absorb the costs, and invest in wind power and battery storage, the report said. Wind power plus battery storage would also allow for smaller projects, rather than one huge one.

Site C was always a problematic place to build a large dam. Numerous decision makers over the years pushed ahead anyway.

Now, Mr. Horgan has to eyeball the sums and consider the conclusions in that report on his desk – and decide whether prudence means pressing forward, or turning back.

I have no doubt that in the days and weeks to come, we will be inundated by the same tired and false lines perpetuated by those who know better: That the NDP was forced to continue the dam because of contracts signed under Clark ( False. Former BC Hydro ceo Jessica Mcdonald confirmed publically before the BCUC review that Site C contracts contained no penalty clauses); that taking on the debt would impact our credit rating ( False, in actual fact, ballooning and unknown cost of Site C is what puts it at risk, because the BC Government guarantees all BC Hydro debt ) ; and last, that the dam was past the point of no return in 2017 ( False, photo documentation exists to show how little was done )

They will also try to claim – as Horgan has done already – that they didn’t know about the extent of the geotechnical issues previously, which is something he should be ashamed of trying to claim. As the Globe editorial team pointed out, everyone knew. It’s one of the most well documented issues,and the governments own report pointed out that this area of the valley specifically, should not see any more development because of the instability. I have had this conversation with MLA’s, as have many others. They knew it could all go to shit like it has, and planned to blame it all on Clark when it did. And without question she bears responsibility for getting it off the ground without a business plan, but the fact Hydro wrote all initial contracts with no penalty clauses, shows how insecure even BC Hydro felt that Site C would move forward at all.

Now, with yet another report imminent, and red flags practically strapped to his forehead, I still don’t think Horgan will stop Site C.. and he has given more than a few reasons to indicate his direction. The biggest of which, is summed up in this thread by Kai Nagata a while back :

That last one is an excellent point. Horgans handpicked Deputy Minister is in the position of defending her own past actions and decisions now, which does not inspire confidence. ( She also worked for Rich Coleman for quite some time and her name has come up a few times in the Cullen Commission already in reference to that time period)

Kai’s points make me doubt very much that Horgan has any will or desire to cancel this dam, just to avoid taking blame for it. They did not slow down construction while the Milburn review was underway, and clearing and slash burning the forest from the reservoir continues. And this leaves me concerned for a few reasons, but the biggest of which is the people who live downstream of this dam construction: the communities of Old Fort, and Taylor.

Slides and earth movement have continued at the site of the older Old Fort big slides, and a government report into that released in October did not find cause, only possible contributors. Which is intriguing because there isn’t any reference to the failure of government to require a slope stability study to be submitted before issuing a permit for this gravel pit to operate, as I wrote about here:

The slides and the community of Old Fort are just a couple kilometres downstream of Site C, and Taylor is further down.

The safety of these two communities located not far downstream from a dam being built in an area with documented historical instability, and current examples of instability via the Old Fort massive slides and earth movement, has not largely been covered by media. This, is a tremendous failure because any discussion around continuing this dam, cannot just be centred on sunk costs or credit ratings, it must include the very real possibility of loss of life, should any kind of failure occur.

The people in Old Fort, being so close, would not have any time to escape if there was a breach or bigger slide. Taylor residents may have mere minutes. This is a factor Peace residents have brought forth innumerable times, and I have shared and repeated these warnings since 2015.

This came up again during the Old Fort slides, in a letter and report shared in this blog post, part of a 3 part series you can access at the bottom of this link :

John Horgan said in one of his 2020 year end interviews that he will follow the science on Site C, but I don’t believe this. If he was a man of science, he would not have chosen to continue construction of a dam in an area with documented instability. Science, specifically geoscience and physics, tells us is it dangerous to do so, and the collapse of the suspension bridge across the Peace River just south of Fort St. John in 1957 tells the tale….

About 11 p.m. on 15 October 1957, the bridge was closed to traffic by an unusual subsidence, or movement of the shale rock, at the north abutment. Over the next 12 hours, a landslide on the north bank carried a million cubic metres of shale — and the anchor block — several metres towards the river, overstressing the suspension cables and eventually rupturing the cables that carried the load of the bridge deck up to the suspension cables from the side span. While the side span and the cable supports collapsed into the river, the towers of the suspension bridge, though damaged, remained standing. Hundreds of spectators — the result of jammed-up, southbound traffic on the Alaska Highway — watched the severing of an important link with southern Canada; no one was injured….

…The landslide on the north bank was attributed to the weathering of the shale rock after its disturbance and exposure by the construction of the bridge approach and of the water supply to the natural gas plant. Similar shales, known as clay shales, have since provided challenges to foundation engineers across the Interior Plains. The bridge failure remains an example of the far-reaching consequences of a comparatively small event.

Indeed, but unlike a bridge collapse that just hampered trade and travel, the far reaching consequences of a dam failure as a result of building in exactly the same conditions, will be extensive and include loss of life, and entire communities.

That cannot be mitigated, ignored or justified. Residents just downstream literally just about lost it all in the slides I linked to above. I can’t even understand why the debate about whether the science supports this dam or not continues. It is engineers who make decisions, and history is full of engineering failures. Sometimes those errors were miscalculations, and sometimes humans just have a desire to master and control nature that overrides common sense perhaps. Ego is a terrible thing when it comes to being the first to do something everyone said couldn’t or shouldn’t be done. Humans are not infallible and nature is a force we cannot control.

Keep in mind too, that Hydro contracted engineers have approved everything to date, all this construction that is moving and cracking, and BC Hydro has maintained its all fine….even while FOI documents detailed how deeply in trouble the project has been for over a year

Time to run, but why not scroll through my Site C page and the one over at Narwhal, to get yourself up to speed before the Milburn report is issued.

And if you are reading this John? Let the legacy of your leadership not be defined by getting done what Christy Clark could not….let it be defined by having the moral courage to stop what you know she shouldn’t even have started.

15 thoughts on “So much at risk if Site C continues… yet I still don’t think John Horgan has the courage to stop it. Where does this leave residents downstream?

    1. Thank you Peter, we do need to elect forward thinking politicians. I think the NDP does have many forward thinking politicians….I just don’t think Horgan is one of them and never has been. Bowinn Ma would be the kind of person they need to lead. Unfortunately the whip inside the BC Ndp is so strong anyone who speaks out or criticizes will suffer consequences. There is no independent opinion other than the party line allowed to be voiced and this is not new. I’m not sure how the more progressive mla’s console themselves having lost the voices they used so well in opposition. Or perhaps they have all just fooled themselves into believing its for the greater good ? I dont know.

      I do know that Horgan is showing people more and more often his right wing tendencies and its why the right wing supports his leadership in BC. He’s keeping big projects open despite opposition by First Nations up north worried about Covid in isolated areas. Hes ignoring science on covid. The BC CDC finally was forced to acknowledge aeresol transmission months after the feds, hes prioritized safety of national hockey games over LTC or schools in metro Van….and his party is keeping him out of the public light so Dix and Henry bear the brunt of criticism.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. In the unlikely event that Site C is actually completed and put into service, a breach, likely caused by ground instability, would definitely risk wiping out the community of Old Fort. Taylor itself is located on top of a tall embankment so I’m not sure if there would be damage done there. However, the river water pumphouse for the Taylor gas plant would definitely be destroyed, shutting that entire site down.
    On the south bank is the community of South Taylor which is prone to flooding under normal seasonal conditions. It would be totally gone.
    Even tho it is miles downstream, the Alberta town of Peace River would probably also be at risk of severe flooding.
    Thanks for all the hard work you do covering topics that corporate media ignores. We need more voices of sanity in these crazy times.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Steve. There aren’t many of us left unfortunately. The allies we all used to fight these things with have decided being silent to avoid criticizing their party is more important than doing the right thing now. It makes it that much harder for those who don’t have a party affiliation. I refuse to join a party,ever.

      There isn’t one that exists that allows truly free and independent voices once you join, whether its from party brass or other members.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. What a way to spend your Christmas/New Year’s break! Gotta hand it to you. Anyone else would have given up and considered they were flogging a dead horse.
    Well, judging by the lack of comments, most of them have, given up.
    But I haven’t, even though I 1) don’t live downstream, and 2) produce my own electricity. Why should I care if “they” drive us to insolvency over a really stupid decision?
    Chrispy, well, that was a foregone conclusion. In spite of her advanced education (after all, she did attend the Sorbonne, once!) and no one really expected her to make a rational decision. But Horgan! What a two faced, lying…….! He has absolutely pulled the rug out from under the feet of any sensible, listening taxpayer. No longer any credibility!

    Thanks for letting me vent! I could continue but in light of your excellent column, and all you’ve reported previously, there is little I can add. Let it be said that I admire your tenacity and hard work. I do hope you take a break and enjoy the beginning of this New Year!


    1. I did take a break and it was blissful even with the massive storms hammering us nonstop. Today we get the leading edge of a massive system over the pacific and its been hours and hours of 70-90 km winds and horizontal rain.

      This took only moments to write, the info is there it just needs to be gathered.

      The longer this debacle continues the more we all stand to lose when it comes to affordability. Hydro rates are up for an increase again, and should this continue the rates will continue to increase as well to pay for the mistakes and bad judgements of others, long after those politicians are long gone.


  3. Horgan is a coward, I hate to say and I will go one step further, the real premier is Geoff Meggs, Horgan’s chief advisor.

    I have been told this by long time NDP friends.

    The Horgan/Meggs premiership is a Labour Party and the goal of this labour party is to build huge monuments for themselves, using union labour. This government does not give a damn about public debt, it does not give a damn about public safety, it does not give a damn about the pandemic; it does not give a damn about the elderly. I can go on.

    There are massive fiscal problems looming on the horizon and the Horgan/Meggs government is oblivious to a chill economic winds blowing.

    Site C should be stopped, the foundation is of muck, there is no demand for more power, but common sense does not exist – fiscal sense is nonexistent.

    We are living in dire times, yet our politicians remain oblivious to this and continue like nothing happened, just look at the number of politico’s holidaying out of country.

    What me worry. Pandemic, what pandemic.

    I am now 65 and I cannot see how anyone can survive on the meager Canada Pension, it is impossible, poverty, homeless abound, but the party of the people, the NDP, do nothing but lecture us to do as they say and not do as they do.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. And of course, Hydro hasn’t submitted any of their required reports and are now two behind on this public project.

      And silence from the ndp. Both caucus and members.

      ” Unprecedented secrecy around troubled #SiteC dam continues.BC Hydro now missing 2 Site C quarterly reports to @BCUtilitiesCom

      . Last report on publicly funded project current to March 31, 2019.

      @bcndp gov’t silent.”


  4. I seen the photo somewhere of Horgan with some other people taken long ago holding a sign saying Site C Sucks.He and his people knew this project was bad and it wasn’t beyond the point of no return. Horgan has also stated a while ago that he would support completing the dam, but never would have started it.
    Make no mistake about it. Horgan and his people are just as dirty lying and immoral as the previous ones. The same old excuse is used that were already 6 billion into it. But what they won’t say is we will likely be over 20 billion plus into it when or if it is finished because of troubles with integrity. All that extra billions could be helping so many people and businesses in dire straights right now. What can you expect from when a premier holds an election in a pandemic. He is a……… I will leave it there.


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