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BC Hydro defends Nelson staff cuts

BC Hydro says it will lean more heavily on community groups to deliver fish and wildlife programs in the region
One of the regional programs BC Hydro’s Fish and Wildlife Compensation Program’s local office oversees is the Meadow Creek spawning channel.

BC Hydro says it will lean more heavily on community groups to deliver fish and wildlife programs in the region now that it’s closing its Nelson office and laying off several staff.

Chris O’Riley, the corporation’s executive vice-president for generation, told the Star they are “committed to these programs in the Columbia region and across the province” and $8 million in annual funding will remain intact. “We are looking for operational efficiencies and ways to deliver the programs more effectively,” he says.

O’Riley defended the closure of the Fish and Wildlife Compensation Program’s Nelson office, which has been slammed by the Canadian Office and Professional Employees Union as well as Nelson-Creston MLA Michelle Mungall. He said the money saved in salaries and administration will be put back into environmental programs.

“Some of the efficiencies will come from providing more money directly to community groups to fund the important work that’s done in the program,” he says.

“Since 1998, we’ve funded over 700 projects, and many of those were driven by community and environmental groups across the province. We plan on enhancing that.”

He added the work will be administered from Castlegar, not Burnaby as the union stated.

Although critics wonder whether Hydro will be able to adequately monitor the work, which is required under the terms of their water licenses, O’Riley says they are confident they can continue to meet their commitments.

He says laid-off workers will have a chance to take on other roles in the company through a “fairly complicating” bumping process that will unfold over the next couple of months.

However, there is confusion about the exact number of job losses: Hydro says six positions will be cut in Nelson and a “couple” in Castlegar, while the union says it’s four in Nelson and three in Castlegar.

BC Hydro’s fish and wildlife programs are separated into three divisions: Peace, Columbia, and Coastal. The Peace program based in Prince George is also facing layoffs, while the Coastal office already has minimal staff, and relies on community groups, O’Riley said.

The layoffs are among over 300 announced last week in response to a government-commissioned panel that suggested Hydro had a bloated workforce and called for staff cuts to stave off rate increases.

“We’ve looked at all our programs across the company. I think it’s fair to say we’ve hit many programs very hard,” O’Riley says. “This was an area where we thought we could realize some operational efficiencies and provide the same benefits with fewer people.”

However, COPE 378 called the move “political and arbitrary.”