The West Moberly First Nation is being offered a settlement package that includes Crown land in compensation for impacts from the Site C dam project.
According to a joint press release issued by the B.C. and Canadian government and BC Hydro, the West Moberly First Nation, a Treaty 8 signatory, is being offered “a partial settlement” that includes land and financial benefits in exchange for dropping a civil suit that the First Nation has against the Site C dam project.
The million-dollar question is how much the settlement is worth, who pays what and whether it will contribute to any escalations of the Site C dam's already bloated price tag of $16 billion?
In response to questions from BIV News, the Ministry of Energy and Mines says the terms of the agreement between BC Hydro and West Moberly on cash payments are confidential.
"There are no increases to the Site C budget because of these agreements," the ministry says.
The compensation package includes the transfer for 5,000 acres of Crown land to the West Moberly. The parcels have not yet been identified.
West Moberly Nation Chief Roland Wilson told BIV News that the details of the agreement haven’t been fully worked out yet, so it’s hard to put an exact dollar figure on the settlement.
“There’s an ongoing negotiation happening right now, so we don’t know what the end result of this will be,” he said. “The land settlement for Site C is equivalent to what all the other nations have received. There’s a cash compensation piece that equivalent to all the other nations.”
The settlement includes:
- an impact and benefits agreement between BC Hydro and West Moberly;
- two agreements between BC Hydro and West Moberly providing West Moberly contracting opportunities; and
- a tripartite land agreement, between the Province, BC Hydro and West Moberly
As part of the agreement, the West Moberly will drop its claim against the Site C dam project and the federal government.
The West Moberly claim that the Site C dam and other dam projects on the Peace River constitute an infringement on their treaty rights.
Wilson blames the creation of the Williston reservoir for the WAC Bennett dam for declining caribou populations in the area, and the loss of fishing.
"We haven't been able to hunt the caribou for quite a few years now," Wilson said. "That's a direct infringement."
As part of the settlement, the West Moberly agree to “pause” its claim against the provincial government and “place it in abeyance.”
“These agreements are an important step in advancing this relationship between West Moberly First Nations and BC Hydro as we move away from litigation,” said BC Hydro CEO Chris O’Riley.
The West Moberly lost a judicial review in 2015 aimed at halting the Site C dam project, underscoring the fact that governments are allowed to infringe treaties for projects deemed to be in the public's interest.
However, First Nations can sue if they feel they have not been properly compensated for those infringements, which is what the West Moberly did. But rather than continue to seek compensation through the courts, the West Moberly agreed to a negtotiated settlement.
"The decision to settle this part of the court case was taken with a heavy heart and with serious considerations of the best interests of our community," Wilson said.