By Lloyd Dolha
The Chiefs Council and BC Hydro initialed an historic final agreement on a compensation package over a long-standing grievance with the province regarding construction of a massive hydro-electric project St’at’imc traditional territory in the Lillooet area. “The whole agreement is based on past impacts to allow our people to move on, utilizing the resources achieved in this agreement,” said Mike Leach, chair of the St’at’imc (stat-lee-um) Chiefs Council. “I refer to it as a ‘living agreement’ for future generations.”
The St’at’imc Hydro Agreement was signed January 5th in Lillooet. The $200 million compensates the council for past impacts on their traditional territory during the construction and operation of the decades-old Bridge River System. The density of BC Hydro infrastructure in St’at’imc territory is greater than that found anywhere in the province. It includes three dams, three reservoirs, four generating stations, and 15 transmission circuits comprising approximately 850 kilometres of transmission lines. A full environmental assessment for the project’s impact was never done—it was not required at the time.
In the early 1950’s, the project virtually wiped out the entire Bridge River salmon runs and caused a local famine among the area’s fishery-dependent First Nations. “This agreement represents an important step forward in resolving the historic grievances of the St’at’imc, stemming from power projects that were an important part of BC’s economic development decades ago and which continue to be of strategic importance to everyone in our province today,” said Minister of Aboriginal Relations Barry Penner. “We believe this agreement, once ratified, will provide current and future generations of St’at’imc with the resources necessary to build a brighter future.”
The complex package agreement is actually 12 separate agreements negotiated over an 18-year period. Once ratified, the final agreement will provide the St’at’imc not only with compensation, but also with greater mitigation of impacts and economic opportunities. It also provides the crown corporation and the province greater operational security for the future. The settlement provides an initial lump sum for each of the 11 First Nations and additional payments over time, the majority of which will be put into a long-term trust fund. Each of the 11 First Nations will also receive separate payments under their respective Community Agreements. The settlement includes funding for environmental initiatives to help restore fish, wildlife, and vegetation. In addition, it will fund a heritage plan to promote and preserve St’at’imc culture, a relations agreement to assist in developing a long-term sustainable relationship with BC Hydro, and an education and training component to build capacity in the member communities.