VICTORIA - The president of BC Hydro says a one-year delay in the Site C hydroelectric dam project would cost $630 million, with construction in limbo as the NDP is poised to form a minority government in British Columbia in the coming weeks.
The NDP, which has signed a deal with the Green party to bring down Premier Christy Clark's Liberal government, wants to send the project in northeastern B.C. to the province's utilities commission to review its economic viability.
At a briefing on Wednesday, hydro president Jessica McDonald says bids for contracts for the realignment of a highway are set to go out June 15 and a bridge construction tender is scheduled to be issued at the beginning of July.
McDonald says two homes — one owned by local farmers and the other a rental property — are in the direct path of the $8.8-billion dam.
NDP Leader John Horgan recently wrote to McDonald asking that the Crown corporation suspend the evictions for the two homes and urging it not to sign any new contracts for the project until a new government has gained the confidence of the legislature after last month's election.
On Tuesday, Clark sent letters to Horgan and Green Leader Andrew Weaver telling them the evictions are necessary as part of the road and bridge construction projects that are needed to divert a river in September 2019.
Weaver attended Wednesday's briefing in Victoria, a day after he and Horgan replied to Clark's letters questioning her claim that any delay could postpone the diversion by a year and cost taxpayers $600 million.
The premier has asked Horgan and Weaver to reply by Saturday on whether they still want to put the evictions on hold. She says a decision to proceed must be made by June 15 in order to maintain the river diversion schedule.
In his reply, Horgan writes he was surprised to receive the letter from Clark.
"In it, you made unsupported claims about additional costs associated with asking BC Hydro not to sign major contracts until a new government takes office," he says.
"If you are truly concerned about this timeline, there is a simple solution: recall the legislature immediately and face a confidence vote so British Columbians can get the new government they voted for."
But Clark says the project is likely to progress past the "point of no return" before a review can be completed.
Clark didn't define what she meant, nor did she explain how she reached the $600-million figure in her letter. Her press secretary Stephen Smart referred questions to BC Hydro, which declined to answer them on Tuesday.
In his letter, Weaver says he requires access to supporting evidence, including signed contracts, the project schedule and potential alternative project timelines before he can comment on what Clark "asserts" are delays to the dam's construction.
"Your government is turning a significant capital project that potentially poses massive economic risks to British Columbians into a political debate rather than one informed by evidence and supported by independent analysis."
The dam will be the third on the Peace River, flooding an 83-kilometre stretch of valley, and local First Nations, landowners and farmers have fiercely opposed the project.
Construction began two years ago and the project employs more than 2,000 people.
A report by University of British Columbia researchers in April argued it wasn't too late to press pause on the project and that the electricity produced by Site C won't be fully required for nearly a decade after it's complete. It said cancelling the project as of June 30 would save between $500 million and $1.65 billion.