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Photo: Paul; Rudan / The Mirror
General News · 10th May 2008
forwarded by Stan Oliver
Chief Ken Brown stands by the East Toba River in the traditional territory of the Klahoose First Nation where Plutonic Power is building run-of-the-river hydro projects.

Power project propels First Nations Band
Paul Rudan The Mirror

In a mountainous land of waterfalls Ken Brown envisions a windfall that will last generations.

Flying over the traditional. territory of the Klahoose First Nation on the mainland coast, the elected chief surveys progress on Plutonic Power Corporation's ambitious 'Green Energy Corridor" hydroelectric project.

"We lived all over here - but there's not much left, just some artifacts," he says over the helicopter headset.

Once nomadic, the small band now makes its home in nearby Squirrel Cove on Cortes Island. Approximately 60 people live on reserve while 150 others are spread out in places like Campbell River,' Powell River and Vancouver,

They are separated by geography, but this $660-million, 196-megawatt run-of-river power project has presented a unique opportunity to unite them through an array of economic ventures.

"We're exploring forestry, a geoduck operation, water bottling, eco-tourism, and we're hoping to buy a tug and barge," says the 35-year-old leader. And the right-of-way agreement is providing the funding to build a. 15,000-square-foot multi-purpose facility for our people."

The agreement with Plutonic, for access into the Toba River Valley, is giving the Klahoose the financial leverage to start new business ventures. It is also providing the people with training and jobs with Kiewit, the project contractors.

'We can't wait forever - the B.C. treaty process is fundamentally flawed - and I don't like taking government handouts," states Brown, who points out that treaty talks have been ongoing since 1994, "We were going nowhere, but we've created a real partnership with a company that has honored all of its commitments."

Plutonic power: Camp ready by summer

Plutonic has signed similar agreements with the Sliammon and Sechelt First Nations.

The company has also begun talks with the Campbell River-based Homalco band whose traditional territory is, in Bute Inlet.

"That project has the potential to be even bigger than this one. It's a tremendous opportunity for the Homalco," says Brown.

Flying through Toba Inlet in an E&B chopper, he takes in the breathtaking vistas of rugged 8,000-foot peaks which steeply descend to the sea. It's also the warmest day of the year and the spring melt of the 'mountaintop ice fields has created waterfalls that appear everywhere.

It's this type of runoff which Plutonic plans to divert through generators to create electricity by 2010 on the East Toba and Montrose creek sites.

The two run-of-the-river projects are expected' to deliver 745 gigawatt hours of electricity to the BC Hydro grid - enough energy to run 77,000 homes.

But at what cost ask the critics which include the provincial NDP, the Western Canadian Wilderness Committee and COPE 378, a BC Hydro union. They contend that private power deals will increase energy costs for consumers and will take away control of hydro-electric energy from a public utility.

"Energy self-sufficiency is one thing, energy sovereignty is another," says Scott Simpson, the NDP's environment critic who spoke at a recent meeting in Campbell River,, "The prices will be set in Sacramento (California), not in B.C."

As well, the critics say the run-of-the-river hydro projects are hardly "green" with the construction of roads, generating stations and transmission lines which may adversely impact fish and wildlife in a "pristine wilderness."

But during the flight over the project area, Dave Cyr of Plutonic points out that Kiewit contractors are building the main road over an overgrown logging road.

Logging took place more than 30 years ago in this valley and a huge A-frame building in the wilderness attests to the former campsite.

Today, the A-frame sits on Kiewit's second camp and is being converted into a recreation hall.

The camp is just being built and will be ready by summer for some 250 workers.

"That's far bigger than most coastal logging camps," says Cyr, a former Gold River businessman now employed by Plutonic to handle First Nations and corporate relations partnerships.

As for fish stocks, Plutonic has gone through some careful planning to ensure none are affected.

The company has completed extensive provincial and environmental assessments, Kiewit employs a full-time environmental consultant, and all work is monitored by an independent advisor who answers to the provincial government.

All we have to do is watch out for the flying salmon," jokes Brown, who points out the rocky waterfalls which pose an impenetrable barrier to spawning salmon in the project areas.

As the chopper heads over the winding, green-brown waters of the Toba River, leading north to the East Toba project site, Brown asks the pilot to set down on a gravel creek bank.

The chief and Cyr hop out of the aircraft and scamper through the bush to the nearby roadway where fallers have just leveled the second-growth alders.

What looks "nearby" from the air turns out to be short hike through dense brush and over rotted evergreen stumps.

The roadway is barely visible from five metres away and from the air it appears to be a thin strip through an imposing valley.

Back on the creek bank, the chief stops to look around at the soaring mountains and the budding forest, and he reflects on the future.

"Who better to be stewards of this land than us, the First Nations people who have always been here?" he asks.

"We're not flooding the land like BC Hydro did with dams. We're just creating opportunity."