Open letter calls on B.C. to stop Site C dam construction so review can be conducted

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – A dozen prominent British Columbians are demanding the government stop construction on the controversial Site C dam project immediately.

They’ve penned an open letter to John Horgan to urge the government to order a third-party review on the “problem-plagued” project, and for a team of experts to “analyze whether serious geotechnical problems at the site can be solved and at what cost.”

The 12 signatories, who include David Suzuki, Grand Chief Stewart Philip, and former BC Hydro boss Marc Eliesen, hope to make Site C an election issue.

Eliesen says recent issues reaffirm the poor design of the dam.

“There hasn’t been an earth-filled dam anywhere in the world that has had this [L-shaped] design,” he tells NEWS 1130. “And this design has never been peer-reviewed, it’s never been evaluated, it’s only developed in-house by Hydro’s consultant.”

A sign outside the Site C dam project in northern B.C. (John Ackermann, NEWS 1130 Photo)

It’s been estimated that Site C construction could cost around $9-10 billion, however, some have said that number is expected to be much higher. Eliesen says the recent challenges make the project a case of throwing good money after bad.

“…because the price of Site C has risen from $6.6 billion to $8.9 to billion to $10.7 billion and now is probably north of $12 or $13 billion,” he says, adding there’s never been a need for the Site C dam, anyway.

“We always sufficient power and even for those who argued that we needed additional generating sources in the future, the [BC Utilities Commission] review clearly indicated that there were other non-renewable resources available.”

As part of their demands, the signatories are urging Premier John Horgan to appoint an independent panel of three people to assess the “known geotechnical problems at Site C” and determine if they can be fixed, and if so, how much that would cost. They are also demanding the findings of said review be released to the public before a decision on the project’s future is made.

Finally, the letter is calling for the publishing of a “full accounting of all the costs incurred to date at Site C and an up-to-date estimate of all anticipated costs to complete the project.” That would include the costs associated with fixing the geotechincal problems at the construction site.

Read the full letter below:

Open Letter to Premier John Horgan

The Honourable John Horgan, M.L.A.

Premier British Columbia.

Monday, September 28, 2020


Dear Premier Horgan,

We write you today to express our profound concerns about your government’s decision to allow continued construction work at the problem-plagued Site C dam project.

The Site C project is years away from completion, is mired in problems that may be unfixable, and confronts new, potentially horrendous cost over-runs.

When news surfaced in late July of significant “project risk” geotechnical problems at Site C, your government appointed Peter Milburn, a former deputy minister of finance, to take a closer look at the project’s escalating problems and costs.

But the government did not elect to halt the project while those significant problems, and their unknown consequences, were addressed.

As concerned British Columbians and Canadians, we believe that it is extremely premature for your government to rule out cancelling the project. That would be equivalent to handing the project a blank cheque.

The prudent course of action – one that respects Indigenous and Treaty rights as well as the interests of all taxpayers and hydro ratepayers – is to immediately suspend all construction activities at the project. This includes the imminent and critical river diversion. In our respectful view, it is folly to allow that diversion to occur when geotechnical problems of unknown magnitude remain unresolved at the construction site.

We urge you to give Mr. Milburn clear and unambiguous direction to do three things while construction at Site C is suspended.

First, to appoint a panel of three qualified, independent professionals with no direct ties to BC Hydro or contractors at the Site C project to do a thorough assessment of all known geotechnical problems at Site C. Can the problems be resolved at all? If they can, what is required to ensure the structural integrity of the dam as well as the health and safety of all residents and communities downstream?

The independent panel should also provide an estimate on what the required fixes will cost so that your government can make an informed decision that is in the social and economic interests of all British Columbians.

Second, all information prepared by the engineering panel must be made public well before government decides whether or not to re-start the project.

This is crucial because to date the public’s trust in the Site C project has been eroded by a lack of transparency. Progress reports that BC Hydro was to regularly submit to the BC Utilities Commission have been delayed by months. The public has yet to see a single report filed with the provincial Water Comptroller by Site C’s independent engineer. And there has been a virtual cone of silence from the allegedly independent Site C Project Assurance Board.

Lastly, members of the public deserve a full accounting of all the costs incurred to date at Site C, as well as a comprehensive estimate of the costs remaining to complete the project. That estimate must include a transparent accounting of all known geotechnical problems at Site C and the associated costs to remedy them.

Despite years of work to date, Site C’s construction remains years and billions of dollars away from completion. In fact, construction of the earthfill dam itself has not even begun.

The project’s estimated total costs have recently been pegged at $12 billion – virtually double what they were when former Premier Gordon Campbell announced the government’s intention to proceed with the project a decade ago.

The newly-reported geotechnical problems at Site C will add significant, unknown added expenses to the final project cost.

With your government and governments around the world dealing with the harsh economic realities imposed on society by the global COVID-19 pandemic, now is not the time to be digging an even deeper financial hole on a costly project that may, given proper independent scrutiny, be found to be so structurally unsound as to be too risky to complete.

In closing, we urge your government to do the responsible thing and immediately order a halt to all work on the Site C project, pending the gathering of information that is vital to the public interest.


Yours, respectfully,


Robyn Allan, Economist, former CEO of ICBC.

David Anderson, former federal Fisheries and Environment Minister.

Dr. Warren Bell, past founding president, Canadian Association of Physicians for the


Mauro Chiesa, retired advisor to World Bank on major projects including hydroelectric dams.

Marc Eliesen, former BC Hydro President and CEO.

Ken Farquharson, retired engineer.

Eoin Finn, retired partner, KPMG.

Vicky Huntington, former provincial MLA.

Vicky Husband, noted conservationist.

Kekinusuqs Judith Sayers, Former Chief of Hupacasath First Nation, adjunct Professor, UVIC.

Seth Klein, author, policy analyst, and adjunct professor, SFU.

Alex Neve, former Secretary General of Amnesty International Canada.

Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, Union of BC Indian Chiefs.

Harold Steves, Richmond Councillor and former provincial MLA.

David Suzuki, scientist and broadcaster.

Harry Swain, former chair of the joint federal-provincial Site C review panel.

Mardi Tindal, Former Moderator of the United Church of Canada.

Chief Roland Willson, West Moberly First Nations.

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