A report that could decide the future of Site C, a proposed megaproject that would cost BC Hydro $7.9-billion to build, has been filed with the federal and provincial governments.
The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency announced Thursday that the much anticipated Joint Review Panel report has been completed and given to the federal Minister of the Environment and B.C.'s Environmental Assessment Office.
A B.C. government spokesman said the report will likely be released to the public next Thursday.
A final decision on the proposed project, which would dam the Peace River and flood 3,000 hectares of farmland, will be made by government. But the Joint Review Panel recommendation to either accept or reject the project on environmental grounds is expected to play a decisive role.
B.C. Energy Minister Bill Bennett said he has not yet read the report and a final decision around the project is still months away.
"Next week some time the report will be posted for the public to see and then the two environmental assessment agencies will have until September to make a final recommendation to their ministers," he said. "They will also develop some conditions, I would expect, that would have to be met if the recommendation is that a certificate is to be granted."
Mr. Bennett said the ministers have until late October to make a decision on the project and then that recommendation will go before B.C.'s cabinet.
"So there are a few more steps before there is a final decision," he said.
Whatever the government decides, it is bound to be controversial.
During five weeks of hearings, the Joint Review Panel received more than 1,500 comments and examined more than 1,000 documents.
Chris O'Riley, BC Hydro's executive vice-president of generation, told the panel the dam is badly needed to meet B.C.'s rapidly growing energy needs. And he said even at $7.9-billion it is a good investment because it will generate relatively cheap power for decades to come.
But First Nations, environmentalists and farmers opposed the project, saying it would destroy prime fish and game habitat, push natives off land that is culturally important to them, and drown valuable farmland.
If it goes ahead, Site C would be the third dam on the Peace River. It would be more than 1,000 metres long and 60 metres high, creating an 83-kilometre-long reservoir that would flood the last wild section of the river. It would produce about 5,000 gigawatt hours of electricity a year, or enough to power 450,000 homes.