Newspaper article The Canadian Press

B.C.'S Cheslatta Aboriginals Apply for Water Licence at Kenney Dam

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

B.C.'S Cheslatta Aboriginals Apply for Water Licence at Kenney Dam

Article excerpt

B.C.'s Cheslatta aboriginals start hydro project

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VICTORIA - An aboriginal band in north-central B.C. has moved towards harnessing the power of a hydro-electric dam that flooded their territory and imprinted images of floating coffins into their history.

Sixty-two years after the Kenney Dam flooded the traditional territory of the Cheslatta Carrier Nation, destroying hunting, fishing and living areas and drying up parts of the Nechako River, the Prince George-area nation plans to profit from the structure built without their consultation to power the Rio Tinto Alcan smelter in Kitimat.

Cheslatta spokesman Mike Robertson said the Cheslatta formally applied for a provincial water licence on Monday.

Robertson said the band has approached BC Hydro with plans to develop a 45 megawatt hydroelectric project at the Kenney Dam site that would generate power from a proposed spillway nearby.

"We've been doing formal research on this project for 30 years or more," said Robertson. "It's not a new project by any means but it's the first time somebody's actually started the engine and started driving the project."

Robertson said the Cheslatta's Nechako River Legacy Project aims to stop flooding of Cheslatta Lake and river by releasing water from the Kenney Dam reservoir directly into the 10-kilometre section of the Nechako River, including the Nechako River Canyon, which has been dry since 1952 when the damn was constructed to create energy to power the aluminum smelter in Kitimat.

The Cheslatta Nation was not consulted about the project, which reversed the flow of the Nechako River through a 16-kilometre tunnel to Kemano, the site of the smelter power plant near Kitimat.

Robertson said the dam's original design and construction did not include a spillway and massive releases of water from the reservoir system forced the Cheslatta to flee villages. The Cheslatta River valley was flooded, with the surge of water depositing tonnes of silt, gravel and debris into Cheslatta Lake.

The dam's water also destroyed grave sites and human remains and fragments from smashed caskets are still being discovered today along the Cheslatta Lake shoreline, he said. …

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