Members of the Similkameen Valley Planning Society met in Keremeos on Wednesday, March 26 at the Lower Similkameen Indian Band office.
The group listened to two delegations make presentations – Fortis, who updated members on the Similkameen dam proposal, and Kim English of Hedley, who spoke about the upcoming next meeting of the community conversation series of lectures.
Fortis Managers Bob Gibney and Joseph Sukhnandan’s presentation to the SVPS was similar to one presented to Keremeos council on March 17.
SVPS members had numerous questions to ask about the proposed dam, the study of which, according to Gibney, was only in its elementary first stages.
Of primary concern to society members was who would be ultimately responsible for operation of the dam.
“I’ve received lots of calls from my constituents who have concerns over turning the river over to private interests,” said Area “H” Director Brad Hope.
“People are really concerned how the profit motive will affect us. I guess the question is, “Do we have confidence in Fortis to be controlling the river?’”
Sukhnandan attempted to assure the group that Fortis would be subject to strict regulations regarding water discharge over the dam.
Keremeos Mayor Manfred Bauer agreed that concerns about Fortis’ motivations were high on the public’s list of priorities. He insisted the company’s direct consultative process should address the concerns over who will ultimately have control over the river.
“We need to have a say in what we need,” said Lower Similkameen Band Chief Keith Crow.
Gibney assured the group Fortis was not going to “blow smoke up your pants,” saying the company would be involved in deep consultation with the public.
“This is not something that is going to be shoved down people’s throats,” he said, “it’s important that people protect their rights and be active in consultation.”
Area “G” Director Angelique Wood asked about the future of placer claims located along the river upstream of the dam, many of which were apparently due to expire in 2017. Should a decision to build the dam be positive, the claims would be allowed to expire and no compensation paid.
The SVPS hired consultant and Regional District Communications Manager Andrew Stuckey to develop a communications plan for the Similkameen Watershed Study. In addition to keeping the public informed regarding the study’s progress, society members were concerned the public would confuse the watershed study with Fortis’ dam investigations.