Power line decision shocks residents

By Trevor Wales
South Delta Leader
Jul 14 2006

Chung Chow photo

Tsawwassen residents (from left) Jack Bulloch, Karsten Holmsen, Julie Berks, Cecil Dunn, and Bernadette Kudzin are contemplating their next move after B.C. Utilities Commission ruled last week to continue using the BC Hydro right-of-way backing their properties for upgraded power lines.

Members of Tsawwassen Residents Against High Voltage Overhead Lines (TRAHVOL) are still shell-shocked after Friday’s decision by B.C. Utilities Commission (BCUC) to upgrade the overhead towers and power lines along the existing right-of-way.

“The report came out and we thumbed our way to the final lines, and everybody was stunned, shocked,” said TRAHVOL co-chair Cecil Dunn.

“Nobody thought that it would come to this. To have them revert to the overhead proposal after receiving a written statement from BCTC stating otherwise was a complete surprise.”

A complete surprise because the one thing TRAHVOL was pushing for—not having more powerful overhead lines running along the existing right-of-way—is exactly what happened.

“It’s like someone hit rewind and we’re right back to square one,” Dunn said.

“We’ve been responsible since day one, we’ve followed due process, we’ve committed 19 months of our time and energy and $300,000 and we’re right back to where we started. To have all that thrown back in your face is more than a little distressing.”

The upgrades are part of the Vancouver Island Transmission Reinforcement Project, designed to improve access to power on Vancouver Island via a marine cable from Tsawwassen Beach.

The decision on July 7 came after nearly two years of consultation and research by TRAHVOL, BCUC and the B.C. Transmission Commission (BCTC). BCTC had originally proposed several route options through South Delta, including the upgrade of overhead power lines along the existing right-of-way established by BC Hydro in the 1950s.

Today, around 176 homes back on the right-of-way.

However, in March of 2005, former BCTC CEO Michael Costello recommended to BCUC that the overhead lines not be upgraded, and that an alternative route would best suit the public interests.

It was a success for TRAHVOL, but they still weren’t satisfied due to concerns regarding electromagnetic fields (EMF) given off by the power lines. They wanted the lines routed away from any residential areas.

But the routes proposed by TRAHVOL were eventually set aside by BCUC in favour of the existing right-of-way, due to lack of support for placing them underground through the area.

“This isn’t just an aesthetic issue, there are definite health concerns as well,” said Dunn. “Even when there was talk of running these cables underground, we were still worried.”

“A lot of these people outside of TRAHVOL kind of took a step back from this when they thought it would go underground, but they’re sorely mistaken if they still believe that’s going to happen. We’re right back at looking at those ugly towers.”

And while TRAHVOL members may be stunned, they are far from finished. They’re currently regrouping and deciding what move to make next.

“We’ve been looking over the report extensively and there are a few issues in there that we’re going to focus on,” Dunn said. “We’re definitely considering our options.”

There’s a multitude of issues for TRAHVOL to consider: the EMF levels are certainly a major health concern, and although the report published by BCUC stated that the levels were acceptable according to the World Health Organization and Health Canada, residents aren’t as easily convinced.

They’ve already spent $300,000 on legal fees, expert witnesses on EMF, research and the cost of attending the hearings. The group sold calendars featuring 12 backyards that would be impacted, and while quite a number were sold, it wasn’t nearly enough to offset the money spent so far.

The group is considering how much more they can afford to spend in battling the upgrades. They might receive some money as a result of BCTC funding shared amongst interveners, but Dunn said that at this point, “our hands are tied and our fingers are crossed.”

The major issue that TRAHVOL is debating is whether or not to appeal the decision with the B.C. Court of Appeal. They have to seek leave to appeal within 30 days of the BCUC ruling being made, and the clock is already ticking.

“We have to determine what value there is in challenging this decision, so we’re consulting with different groups and we’ll go from there,” Dunn said.

“There may be a little bit of reluctance to keep pushing because of how this has been handled to date. It seems like there’s been millions of dollars wasted on a public process that didn’t change anything. And then we pay for experts on EMF, only to have everything summarily dismissed in a few lines in the report.”

Brian Williston, director of engineering for BCUC, said TRAHVOL did a great job presenting their case.

“I can assure you that...the commission was weighing the positives and negatives and trying to get a sense of what was important to the various stakeholders,” Williston said.

“I’m sorry that Mr. Dunn feels that way, but we didn’t write him off. TRAHVOL was a very helpful participant in this entire process, and we went to appropriate lengths to make this decision. I don’t feel they were shortchanged at all.”

TRAHVOL feels differently, however, and spokesperson Maureen Broadfoot said BCUC refused to accept some of the material that TRAHVOL submitted, including a report published in the U.K.’s Daily Telegraph that a ban should be placed on building homes within 200 feet of power lines due to EMF being associated with leukemia.

According to Broadfoot, BCUC’s reason for dismissing that evidence was because they didn’t want to re-open the record.

TRAHVOL wants an extension to the public comment period of the environmental assessment the project must pass. The 56-day period wraps July 27, but TRAHVOL wants another 30 days to prepare its presentation to the Environmental Assessment Office, including an advisory from Canadian Cancer Society to not let children play underneath power lines.

“These are very credible sources, and this evidence is something that the province should be heeding seriously,” Broadfoot said.

© Copyright 2006 South Delta Leader



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