The BC Wildlife Federation wants a separate body to be given oversight of BC Hydro’s Fish and Wildlife Compensation Program in the wake of the company’s recently announced Nelson office closure.
“We’re calling for the funds to be administered by an independent entity so the objectives of the compensation requirements are met rather than addressing corporate BC Hydro objectives,” says Al Martin, the Federation’s director of strategic initiatives.
Under the terms of its water license, Hydro is obligated to spend millions of dollars improving fish and wildlife habitat affected by its dams. However, it now intends to conduct the work without local staff.
Martin says the Federation is also seeking a broader review of the program, to determine whether it has been administered effectively, is achieving intended outcomes, and has sufficient resources.
“Clearly the layoff of those employees was a tipping point for us,” he says. “We certainly understand the need for BC Hydro to downsize for financial reasons, but these aren’t discretionary expenditures.”
Martin says the decision to axe the Nelson office was made without community consultation and without studying whether the program requires dedicated staff or can be left up to contractors and community groups.
He says if compensation efforts are not effective, future hydro projects will be viewed with skepticism, and it may hamper any effort to renegotiate the Columbia River Treaty.
“But the main thing is it needs to be independent. You can’t have Hydro being the judge, jury, and implementer of programs required by condition of water license in terms of are they effective and are there sufficient resources invested?”
Martin says existing bodies, such as the Habitat Conservation Trust Foundation, could take on that supervisory role.
Following meetings with East Kootenay MLA Bill Bennett and Forests Minister Steve Thomson, he believes they have secured a stay of execution while government examines their proposal.
“We’ve been very encouraged. [Bennett] certainly supported the review and asked [Energy] Minister [Rich] Coleman for a pause in the process so there may be an opportunity to move staff to the new model given reasoned analysis of what you need to achieve the compensation program’s objectives.”
Martin says Hydro’s decision to move to a contracted model managed internally is unacceptable to their members.
“Laying off staff and closing of the Kootenay office is symptomatic of a much larger issue in terms of accountability, responsibility, and investment to address the requirements under the water license,” he says.
“They are corporate responsibilities, but need to be conducted openly and transparently. This decision wasn’t done in that fashion and the model they shifted to appears to not have had a lot of analysis behind it.”
Barring a change of heart, the layoffs, announced October 13, are expected to take effect by the end of January.
MUNGALL STAYS ON THE CASE
Nelson-Creston MLA Michelle Mungall, who previously condemned BC Hydro’s decision to shut down its local Fish and Wildlife Compensation Program office, raised the issue again on the last day of the fall legislative session.
She asked Energy Minister Rich Coleman to reconsider the cuts, which she says will result in a “tremendous loss of expertise in the conservation and enhancement of fish and wildlife populations in the region.”
In raising the layoffs during question period, she pointed to a letter that nearly 50 scientists and land management professionals have signed, asking for the decision to be reversed.
“The scientists and professionals could potentially benefit from the layoffs. They could very well be awarded contracts to fulfill BC Hydro’s obligations in the province,” she says.
“Yet these people would still see these jobs maintained by long-term staff because they understand the importance of the program’s role in co-ordination and continuity.”
— Greg Nesteroff