VICTORIA — A farmer in northeast British Columbia is still hopeful that he’ll get to stay in his home, despite an announcement by BC Hydro that the company plans to seize the property to make way for a controversial hydroelectric project.
Jessica McDonald, BC Hydro’s president and CEO, said Monday that the company is expropriating Ken and Arlene Boon’s property to allow for the start of highway realignment work linked to the $8.8-billion Site C dam project.
The Boons must be out of their home by May 31, but they will be allowed to continue farming their land for two more years, McDonald said. The agreement allowing the Boons to stay on the property temporarily was not reached by consent but was signed last week by the family and the B.C. government, she said.
“We were not able to come to a consensual agreement with the Boons and so we have acquired their property through expropriation,” said McDonald at a Site C project briefing with reporters. “We have agreed with the Boons that they will remain in their home until the end of May and that they will have the rights and ability to continue farming the land for an additional two year period of time.”
Ken Boon said Monday that he and his wife have not turned over their property, but did sign an agreement that will allow them to stay as long as possible.
The process has been a frustrating lesson in what rights landowners actually have, said Boon, who leads a land owners’ group that has continuously protested the project and fought it in court with local First Nations.
Site C will flood more than 5,500 hectares of land along the Peace River, creating an 83-kilometre-long reservoir and provide enough power to light up 400,000 homes. Project construction started in the summer of 2015 and is scheduled for completion in 2024.
Boon said the flooding will not only displace his family, but also destroy invaluable farmland.
“This valley is a treasure and there’s no need to be doing this. It’s really a crying shame,” he said.
McDonald said the value of the Boon expropriation will be subject to negotiations over the next year.
“It sets out that they have committed they won’t physically interfere with the project in any way, not just on their lands,” said McDonald.
If they do have to move come June, Ken Boon said he and his wife will re-locate to a converted schoolhouse on a small piece of property that they will be allowed to keep.
“We really haven’t mapped out our life, what we’re going to do after Site C, if it does carries on,” he said. “We’re still hopeful it’ll be stopped yet.”
Hydro recently reached consensual property agreements with six other landowners in the area to make room for the highway project. McDonald said Hydro also expropriated a parcel of vacant land.
Hydro officials also said about 30 homes in the Peace River Valley area near Fort St. John will be affected by the dam over the course of construction, but 20 of those can be moved to other locations within their property boundaries.
Dirk Meissner, The Canadian Press
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