B.C.’s Katzie First Nation is suing BC Hydro and the provincial government, alleging breaches of a contract to mitigate impacts of power generation work on the Alouette River.
“BC Hydro has failed to undertake its contractual obligations in good faith and has breached its obligations to act honourably in its dealings with Katzie, said a notice of civil claim filed in B.C. Supreme Court on Oct. 20.
Katzie territory is in the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows area of the Fraser Valley.
The nation claims the Alouette River system as one of the most significant waterways to its culture and economy.
According to the court documents, BC Hydro and its predecessor BC Electric Railway Company, began developing a hydroelectric system on the river starting in 1924.
The claim said the system has “drastically changed the land and waterscape in Katzie territory, including by curtailing or eradicating many of the Katzie’s culturally important salmon.”
It said BC Hydro obtained conditional approval from Victoria in 1995 to construct a new power station at Stave Falls on the river. The Crown corporation was required to consult with the Katzie First Nation and others on the plan.
Then, the claim said, BC Hydro applied in 1995 for a licence to double the amount of water being diverted from the river for power generation purposes.
The Katzie First Nation said it would not support that unless ongoing impacts were addressed. After some negotiations, the parties signed an impact mitigation contract in 1996, the claim said. Part of that contract included BC Hydro working with the Katzie to identify ways in which both could co-exist on the river system.
In 1998, an impacts study was done and identified the Katzie First Nation's use of the river system for food, travel, spirituality and the nation’s economy.
The Katzie said in the claim that BC Hydro has done nothing to mitigate impacts identified in the study 25 years ago.
Both parties met in 2019 and 2020 to discuss the situation; however, talks were put on hold due to the pandemic.
Meetings resumed in 2021. According to the claim, BC Hydro said in February 2021 that it had no obligation to discuss compensation or impact mitigation.
The Katzie First Nation subsequently filed a suit alleging a breach of the mitigation contract. It also seeks orders that BC Hydro identify Katzie's rights in the region, that BC Hydro identify historical and ongoing impacts caused by the utility company's activities and that the company or the Ministry of Energy, Mines and Low Carbon Innovation bear responsibility of mitigating impacts on the river.
Spokesperson Susie Rieder told Glacier Media that BC Hydro recognizes its electricity system has impacts on Indigenous communities.
“We are committed to working with those communities, including the Katzie First Nation, to build relationships that respect their interests,” Rieder said.
She said that, for two decades, BC Hydro has worked with the Katzie to address concerns related to the impacts the system has on their community.
“For example, we’ve consistently engaged on our operations and project activities in the area,” Rieder said. “We have worked together on water use planning and on large projects like the Interior to Lower Mainland transmission line. More recently, and in alignment with seeking consent for our activities, we modified our projects and water licensing activities in the south Alouette River area to ensure greater collaboration with the nation.”
Rieder said BC Hydro is aware of the claim being filed.
“As this will be heard before the courts, we are unable to comment further on this matter,” she said.