Energy minister fires back after Adrian Dix claims Site C over budget

Dix says contingencies have been spent on budget items. Bennett: 'I don't know what the hell he's talking about.'

Energy Minister Bill Bennett is firing back at Oppostion claims that the Site C dam has blown its budget.  

The minister responsible for BC Hydro says NDP critic Adrian Dix is "either missing the point" or "trying to mislead people" with his claim that contingency funds set aside on the $8.8 billion project are being used to cover a budget shortfall.  

Dix, the former leader of the Opposition, claims there's evidence the utility is using part of its $440 million in contingencies to pay for budget items, in what he claims is a bid to avoid cost overruns before next spring's provincial election.

The issue came up this spring during BC Hydro budget estimates, the Opposition's chance for a line-by-line grilling of the ministry's financial plan.

It arose again after BC Hydro issued a request for qualifications for the Site C spillways and generating station contract May 5.

Dix said that in previous designs, Site C's generating station and spillways were part of the main civil works contract—the already tendered, $1.5 billion budget item that includes the 60-metre high earthfill dam—saying the contract is an "orphaned" line item not currently in the budget.

"I note that they're waiting until after the (May 2017) election to award this contract," Dix told the Dawson Creek Mirror.

He says the item appears to be covered contingencies.  

"You can't allocate the contingencies to pay for that, and that's exactly what they're doing to cover up the fact Site C is way over budget," Dix said in an interview. "That's not what contingencies are for—the main items in the contract. They're intended for things like scheduling delays and geotechnical surprises."

Asked about Dix's argument, Bennet said "I don't know what the hell he's talking about."  

"It's an absurd argument and I honestly can't determine whether Adrian Dix knows what he's saying is wrong and foolish, or if he doesn't actually understand what Hydro has done," he said.

According to the minister, contingencies on major projects are divvied up according to the difficulty of the work involved. For example, the temporary tunnels carved into the wall of the Peace Valley to divert the river would receive more contingency funds than relatively simple tasks like "moving dirt."   

Contingencies are "attributed" to specific contracts over the life of the project, he said.

"He looked at that and said 'oh well, you're already spending the contingency and you're already over budget," Bennett said. "Again, he's either missing the point—that this is how large projects are accounted for—or he's deliberately trying to mislead people into thinking the project is over budget."  

Dix said he wasn't given a clear answer on where money for the latest contract will come from, saying penstocks and generating stations are typically considered part of a dam's main civil works.

"If you don't have the spillway, the intake and the penstock, you've got a $9 billion hockey rink," he said.

Setting stage for election

By next May's provincial election, Site C will have been under construction for nearly 22 months.

Despite that, the dam—the largest infrastructure project in B.C. history—is set to be a major election issue once again.

B.C. NDP leader John Horgan said in November that his party would not rule out cancelling Site C if elected, an idea Bennett called "asinine."

Premier Christy Clark, meanwhile, has vowed to get the dam past the point of "no return."

Bennett told the Dawson Creek Mirror that more than $4 billion in Site C contracts will have been awarded by the election.

"The fact that we're going to have almost $4 billion committed on this project before the next provincial election I think ought to be a sign to the public that we've got nothing to hide here," Bennett said. "We're actually quite pleased with the way this thing is going. Almost half of the total budget has been committed, and we're on budget. That's good news."  

The project still faces lawsuits from two First Nations, as well as a land owner group. The dam will flood around 80 kilometres of river valley and generate 1,100 megawatts of power.  

reporter@dcdn.ca 

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