Politician still concerned about shelved Similkameen dam project

Fortis shelved its proposal to build a dam on the Similkameen River, but a local politician isn’t ready to breathe a sigh of relief yet.

Even though Fortis has shelved its proposal to build a hydroelectric dam on the Similkameen River, a local politician for the area isn’t ready yet to breathe a sigh of relief.

The utility company announced in a press release last week it will not move forward with the project “at this time,” but left the door open to restart it later.

“It’s not cancelled, it’s not put on hold for a year, it’s just out there floating in the ether,” said Brad Hope, who represents rural Princeton on the board of the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen.

While not critical of the proposal itself, which was launched in earnest last year with the company’s application to the B.C. government for an investigative-use permit, Hope had been outspoken on the need for more information about how the project would affect residents.

“I’ve yet to hear what the great benefit was for the Similkameen Valley,” he said.

“We’re back to wait-and-see, but we’ve been that way for 15 years, I think, since Princeton Light and Power first came forward with the concept.

“And I guess that’s why it’s a bit frustrating, because it has been a long time and lots of discussions and it just seemed there was never much that was firm.”

Fortis spokeswoman Grace Pickell said it was purely a “business decision” that led the company to pull the plug for now.

“It was based on the economic and engineering studies we had conducted so far, and so we’re not pursuing the project at this time. But if market conditions did change, there’s a potential we would take another look at it,” she explained.

Pickell would not elaborate on which market conditions would need to change to revive the project, although the dam was expected to generate revenue through both power production and benefits from flow control downstream in the U.S. from its water storage ability.

Just hours before Fortis announced publicly last week that it had shelved the project, company officials met behind closed doors with the RDOS board.

When the meeting was reopened to the public, Allan Patton, the director for rural Oliver, urged Fortis to create a conservation fund if, and when, it jolts the dam project back to life.

“We should look at, and budget for, in terms of providing for some kind of benefit to the regional district or the local valley — Similkameen Valley in particular,” he said.

The company’s representatives agreed such a fund could be considered along with other input costs if the project is revisited.

In January, Fortis was granted a two-year investigative use permit to explore the feasibility of the dam, near the Copper Mountain Mine site about 15 kilometres south of Princeton.

According to Fortis’s land tenure application, the dam would have been up to 200 metres tall, 477 metres long, and created a 750-hectare reservoir behind it to help it generate 45 to 65 megawatts of electricity.