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Cheslatta Carrier Nation's cold water release plans surging ahead

Cheslatta Carrier Nation have formed a partnership with Surespan Construction Ltd. and are looking for more investors for the facility.

Cheslatta Carrier Nation has not given up on their push for a cold water release facility to be constructed at the Kenney Dam.

During the recent 'Returning of the Spirits' ceremony, held at Scatchola Village burial grounds on the shores of Cheslatta Lake, Cheslatta Carrier Nation's policy advisor Mike Robertson announced that they are now taking things into their own hands to solve the decades long issue.

He said the province had promised that a release facility would be built for more than 35 years. "They lied to us. We got government conformation in January 2012 that the province no longer has an appetite to invest in the facility so we have formed a partnership and we plan to do it ourselves." He said they also plan to build a hydro electric generating station to help with financing the project and to create additional economic and social benefits, such as a legacy fund.

He said Chelslatta Carrier Nation is aiming to have the approximate $270 million facility opened within four years. However, before this can happen, Robertson said it is up to the province to direct BC Hydro to negotiate a fair and equitable electricity purchase agreement for the project.

If the project does move forward, there will not be any issues finding the many private investors that the project will require, according to Robertson.

“Surespan Construction Ltd. of Vancouver is already on board and there is investors lining up for these kind of projects,” he said.

Mark Rogers, Surespan Construction Ltd. vice president said, “We are very excited about working with the Cheslatta Carrier Nation to see that the Kenney Dam water release facility becomes a reality.”

Cheslatta recently made a new proposal to the Nechako Environmental Enhancement Fund (NEEF) to help fund the project.

Rod Bell-Irving from NEEF said the committee will be meeting again on June 30, 2012 for preliminary consultations and recommendations on how best to use the funds. Currently NEEF is considering using the bulk of its funds, up to 80 per cent, towards the proposed water release facility at Kenney Dam

The issues with the construction of a cold water release facility stem from a 1997 agreement made between the province and Rio Tinto Alcan.

Rio Tinto Alcan contributed $50 million to NEEF on a matching dollar basis, for a possible $100 million to be held in the fund.

The NEEF management committee was given the task of deciding how these funds should be used.

In 2001, the committee decided that the funds should be used to build a cold water release facility at Kenney Dam, at a then estimated cost of $96 million. Over a period of almost 10 years, the Nechako Watershed Council directed a work plan, which revealed that a cold water release facility at Kenney Dam would not provide the benefits originally anticipated and that a surface water release facility would be of benefit. In addition, preliminary engineering level estimates revealed that the cost for a surface water release facility would be at least $260 million, more than the estimated $96 million for the proposed cold water release facility.

Because of the price tag, the province and Rio Tinto Alcan asked the committee to meet and reconsider its previous decisions for the use of the fund and NEEF began this work in November 2011.

NEEF again recommended that a cold water release facility be built at Kenney Dam and they stated that the facility would be the only way to rehabilitate the Cheslatta watershed, and restore fish habitat between the Kenny Dam and Cheslatta Falls. That proposal didn’t get any provincial funding and wasn’t followed up on.

The project has again come into the spotlight as Cheslatta Carrier Nation venture to push it forward.

Robertson said this project needs to happen because of the damage caused in local rivers due to legislation that is forcing huge volumes of water downstream to spawning sockeye salmon that damaging local food fish, as well as rare white sturgeon beds. The annual flooding from the Kenny Dam reservoir also inundates Cheslatta’s graveyards, washing away coffins, resulting in human remains being dispersed along the shores of Cheslatta Lake.

“Building a release facility would not only relieve the flooding, but would also help restore water flows in the Nechako River,” he added.