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Feds warn BC Hydro after Site C air quality monitors fail to function

Air monitors test for carbon monoxide, airborne particulate, sulphur dioxide
Air monitors for carbon dioxide, airborne particulate and other substances at the Site C work site failed to function during a federal inspection last month.

BC Hydro is in hot water with the federal government after an inspection last month found that air monitors on the Site C construction site were not functioning.

During an inspection of the worksite on the $8.8 billion project, a Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA) official found that "none" of the project's monitors for carbon monoxide, suspended particulate, nitrogen dioxide and sulphur dioxide were collecting data.

The failure to monitor for those substances goes against federal regulations, CEAA Compliance and Enforcement Chief Michel Vitou wrote in a letter to BC Hydro dated May 26. The inspections took place April 26-29.

"Consequently, (BC Hydro) has been unable to monitor air quality effects in order to inform the appropriate authorities of exceedance of federal and provincial air quality standards," the inspector wrote.

The written warning says that Hydro could face fines of up to $400,000 if it fails to comply with Canadian Environmental Assessment Act rules.

According to a CEAA filing, building and operating Site C—the third dam on the Peace River—has the potential to change local and regional air quality.

Emissions sources include dust from road and civil works construction, quarries, burning vegetation and construction equipment. According to a Site C mitigation plan reviewed by the Peace River Regional District last summer, 46 per cent of the 2.3 million cubic mentres of vegetation cleared from the banks of the Peace River will be burned. BC Hydro is required to monitor for airborne matter that could have effects on the environment or human health.  

“BC Hydro takes the letter from the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency very seriously and we’re committed to meeting all the conditions of environmental certification," Site C Manager of Communications and Issues Management Craig Fitzsimmons wrote in an email. "The reviews and audits of the construction site are important and, ultimately, they help us improve performance at the construction site.”

This is not the first time Site C has been written up for failing to comply with environmental rules since construction started last July.

In April, B.C.'s Environmental Assessment Office cited the project for failing to control sediment and runoff into the Peace River.

Arlene Boon, a Peace Valley farmer and opponent of the dam, said the faulty monitors "beg the question how many other things aren't working."  

Site C will flood 83 kilometres of river valley and produce around 1,100 megawatts of electricity.

—this is a developing story that will be updated as information becomes available