Tue 1 Apr 2008
By Stephen Hui, Georgia Straight, March 30 2008
The Kwikwetlem First Nation was prepared to go to court in order to stop a company from building a massive waterpower project in the upper Pitt River valley.
So, leaders of the 61-member nation are overjoyed the provincial government has rejected Northwest Cascade Power Ltd.’s application to remove 70 hectares from Pinecone Burke Provincial Park to build a power line for its proposed run-of-river development.
“We’re extremely happy,” George Chaffee, Kwikwetlem councillor and head negotiator, told the Georgia Straight in the nation’s Coquitlam office.
On March 26, B.C. environment minister Barry Penner shot down the transmission- line proposal , citing opposition from some First Nations, local governments, and the public. His decision came one day after more than 1,000 people packed a meeting in Pitt Meadows and heard speaker after speaker denounce the project.
Although Northwest Cascade’s parent company, Delta-based Run of River Power Inc., maintains it’s still working on its plan to construct seven power-generation facilities on eight tributaries of the upper Pitt River, Chaffee said he’s quite certain the project is dead.
Seated in the office with Kwikwetlem chief Percy Cunningham, fisheries resource manager Glen Joe, and archaeologist Nancy Joe, the councillor insisted the First Nation could not stand by and witness the destruction of another critical salmon- bearing watershed within its traditional territory. The damming of the Coquitlam River in the early 1900s eliminated sockeye salmon from its lower reaches.
“When that dam came in, our grandfather was up there when they were building it, and he told them, ‘If you build this dam, it is no different than taking the food out of my cupboard. You cannot do that. You don’t have that right,’” Chaffee said.
“This is what we say to the upper Pitt project. That is our food. We’ve been fishing that for so long it’s not even funny.”
With the power project almost-surely defeated, the Kwikwetlem’s top priority is to restore the Coquitlam River’s sockeye runs, Chaffee said. The nation is asking B.C. Hydro to consider adding a fish ladder to the dam on Coquitlam Lake, which would allow sockeye to swim freely up and down the river once again.
“Because this is our traditional territory and because this river belongs to us, we try and protect it as much as we can,” Chaffee said.