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The Peace River is one of the most diverse and productive river valleys in the Parkland and Boreal Forest of Canada.

It is a nationally significant waterway that supplies water to the Peace-Athabasca Delta, one of the largest freshwater deltas in the world. The valley provides key year-round habitat for moose, elk and deer, as well as significant habitat for rare birds of prey such as golden eagles, bald eagles and osprey. The river contains high species diversity of fish and diverse vegetation, including prairie grasses and cacti. The south-facing slopes of the river valley constitute some of the last remaining regional habitat for prairie and parkland vegetation, which has been virtually destroyed by agricultural development in the Peace River district and throughout Alberta.

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    AWA is working with local landowners and other groups in a “Friends of the Peace River Valley” coalition to maintain water flows and important river corridor habitat in Alberta’s Peace River Valley. Hydroelectric projects have been proposed that would place ecologically harmful dams and weirs across the River. These barriers significantly alter water flows that are needed to transport materials downstream and allow fish and other organisms to move up and down the river. As Alberta strives for green energy, AWA is convinced there are plentiful opportunities without the significant damage to our vital river ecology caused by ‘big hydro’ dams and reservoirs.

    After 15 years of involvement and opposition by AWA and other groups, in January 2015 TransAlta withdrew their Glacier Dunvegan hydro project that would have built a 6-metre high barrier across the Peace River. In summer 2015, AWA began a concerted effort to stop the proposed 24-metre (7 storey) high Amisk dam across the Peace River, about 15 kilometres upstream from the Dunvegan Bridge. Amisk  proposes a 50 kilometre long headpond that will flood river valley bottom and slopes, including rare native parkland vegetation both inside and outside of the Dunvegan West Wildland Provincial Park. The instability of Valley slopes, already prone to slumping, may significantly increase. The proposed headpond will affect areas that should be prime candidates for stronger ecological protection in the upcoming Lower Peace regional land-use plan. Amisk’s environmental impact studies will be assessed by federal and provincial authorities due to Environment Canada’s assessment of the project’s “potential to cause significant adverse environmental effects.”

    Elevation and Course

    • The Peace River is 1,923 km long and drains an area of approximately 302,500 km2. It originates in the northern Rockies of B.C. and flows for most of its length through northern Alberta. It is a nationally significant waterway that supplies water to the Peace-Athabasca Delta, one of the largest freshwater deltas in the world.
    • AWA’s Area of Concern includes the Peace River valley from the Alberta-B.C. border to Wood Buffalo. Most of that stretch of the river passes through Alberta’s northern agricultural region. Much of the soil in this area once lay at the bottom of ancient glacial-meltwater lakes.
    • The Peace begins at 671 m and ends at 213 m. It forms the southwestern branch of the Mackenzie River system.
    • Two dams disrupt the Peace in B.C.: the W.A.C. Bennett Dam and the Peace Canyon Dam. From the Alberta-B.C. border, it flows unimpeded by human-made structures until it empties into the Peace-Athabasca Delta and Lake Athabasca in Wood Buffalo National park.
    • North of the town of Peace River, the Cadotte River joins the Peace. Although not a major tributary to the Peace, the Cadotte River drains an area underlain by a large oil sands deposit.

    Environmentally Significant Areas

    • The entire stretch of the Peace River, with the exception of two townships, is an Environmentally Significant Area of national importance.
    • Peace River-Dunvegan is an Environmentally Significant Area of national importance.
    • From the 1997 survey of the Environmentally Significant Areas for the province (Alberta Environmental Protection):
      • Peace River-Dunvegan is an Environmentally Significant Area of national importance. It comprises 55,864 ha and stretches from the vicinity of the Smoky River upstream (the town of Peace River) to the B.C. border. The natural subregions are Peace River Parkland and Dry Mixedwood. This is one of the most diverse and productive river valleys in the Parkland and Boreal Forest of Canada.
      • The river valley provides key year-round habitat for moose, elk and deer, as well as significant habitat for rare birds of prey such as golden eagles, bald eagles and osprey. The river contains high species diversity of fish, including lake whitefish, mountain whitefish, bull trout, northern pike, goldeye, walleye, yellow perch, and burbot. Bull trout overwinter in the river. Northern squawfish are only present in the Peace River, and distribution of rare largescale suckers is restricted to the Peace River drainage system. The river valley is an important movement corridor and provides provincially significant geese staging habitat. Wandering and red-sided garternakes hibernacula are common along the banks of the river.
      • Diverse vegetation community types occur along the river. South-facing slopes support typical prairie vegetation such as grasses and cacti. The microclimate at Dunvegan results in a warm dry community of species such as cacti, western meadowlarks, and savannah sparrows.
      • Fossil beds are abundant in bedrock exposures along the valley walls. Hoodoos occur along the south slopes along the upper reaches east of the B.C. border.
      • The Dunvegan Natural Area is located within the Peace River valley.
      • Altered flow regime due to upstream dams may negatively impact riparian ecosystem functioning. Maintenance of natural cover will support the widest variety of wildlife and native plants.

    May 2016

    Amisk informs AWA of its project timeline delay, with field work planned for 2017 and submitting the Environmental Impact Assessment in 2019.

    April 2016

    AWA applies for Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency’s participant funding to participate in the federal independent review panel process for the Amisk hydro project.

    February 12, 2016

    The Federal Minister of Environment and Climate Change announces the referral of the environmental assessment of the proposed Amisk Hydroelectric Project to an independent review panel. The decision to refer the environmental assessment was made after considering its “potential to cause significant adverse environmental effects and concerns expressed by the public and Indigenous groups in relation to these effects.”

    February 10, 2016

    Alberta Environment and Parks releases the final Terms of Reference for the Environmental Impact Assessment Report of the proposed Amisk Hydroelectric Project. As AWA requested, the proponent is now required to describe “a full range of potential dam heights and potential storage levels” rather than just one dam height.

    January 2016

    AWA provides comments to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency on which aspects of the environment may be affected by the Amisk Hydroelectric project proposal and what should be examined by the proponent during the environmental assessment.

    November 2015

    AWA submits a letter to Alberta Environment and Parks regarding the Amisk project proposed terms of reference for Environmental Impact Assessment.  AWA also submits a letter to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency to comment on the projects potential environmental effects and to inform a decision on whether a federal environmental assessment is required.

    June/July 2015

    Amisk holds open houses in Grande Prairie, Fairview, and Peace River to deliver project information and receive stakeholder input. AWA meets with Amisk for project updates and to relay concerns about sensitive wildlife impacts, lack of fish passage, and riparian degradation.

    January 16, 2015

    TransAlta completely withdraws the Dunvegan hydro project. It cites unfavourable project economics, substantial information requests from stakeholders, and a potentially long and costly hearing process as reasons for its decision.

    January 11, 2015

    AWA submits to the Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC) a list of the issues to be presented at the Dunvegan extension hearing, and its intention to file evidence, cross-examine the applicant and give argument, and retain experts to give expert evidence. AWA issues include cumulative impacts on fish and wildlife habitat and movement, the need for an updated Environmental Impact Assessment, and the uncertainty of the project’s overall need.

    October 2014

    The Commission made a ruling on the standing of interested parties, including AWA, regarding the Dunvegan project time extension application. AWA did not receive standing but the Commission granted AWA participation in the hearing, should one proceed based on the standing of other interested parties.

    September 2014

    AWA files a statement of concern and requests the Commission not extend the time as requested by Glacier. AWA submits that there is no need to wait until 2020 to see if market conditions will be favourable for the continuation of the Project. AWA believes when the market conditions become favourable, and Glacier has updated its EIA and reviewed the cumulative impacts of its project, it can then reapply for approval to construct the project. AWA also noted that TransAlta had not completed geotechnical, transportation and environmental studies that were supposed to fill information gaps as a condition of 2009 approvals.

    July 2014

    Amisk Hydroelectric Project Development Corp. (Amisk) initiates communication with AWA regarding their plans to develop a 17 meter high dam and 50 km long headpond hydroelectric project on the Peace River. The proposed site is located approximately 28km southwest of the town of Fairview and 15km upstream of the Dunvegan Bridge on Highway 2 (13km upstream of approved Dunvegan project). Baseline studies and an application submission were scheduled to occur in the following two years, with a construction timeline of approximately 5 years. AWA meets with proponents to better understand the project and discuss environmental impacts.

    May 22, 2014

    TransAlta applies for approval of a 9-year time extension to complete construction of Glacier Power Ltd.’s hydroelectric development by May 30, 2023. TransAlta informs AWA the extension would “provide more time for further preparatory work to be completed and allow for the construction timelines to coincide with electricity market conditions.

    December 6, 2011

    TransAlta reports that it has completed the primary data collection and analysis at the Dunvegan hydro project site. According to TransAlta, this collection and analysis comprises “characterizing the geotechnical conditions on site” and “establishing an environmental baseline.”

    October 2010

    Project update pages on TransAlta’s website report that “Through its wholly-owned subsidiaries, Canadian Hydro Developers, Inc. and Glacier Power Ltd., TransAlta is proposing to build a run-of-the-river hydro facility across the Peace River about two kilometres upstream of the Highway #2 bridge crossing at Dunvegan […] The geotechnical and engineering work previously undertaken has not provided all the data necessary for us to complete the design and we will be taking the rest of 2010 to collect more data.” AWA is pleased that this project has been delayed while TransAlta reviews and recognizes data gaps, and will monitor the development of this proposal.

    December 2008

    The Joint Review Panel decides to approve Glacier Power’s Dunvegan hydro application. The Panel finds that ” the cumulative effects that are likely to result from the Project, in combination with other projects or activities that have been or will be carried out, are not likely to result in significant adverse environmental effects.”

    September 22-26, 2008

    Day 5 – Dunvegan Special Report Friday September 26th the B.C. Hydro panel resumed with cross examination by Mr. Bill Kennedy for the Joint Review Panel. Panels from the Town of Fairview and the Town of Peace River made presentations. In closing arguments Mr. Richard Secord, representing the Coalition, refuted Glacier Power’s criticisms of the Coalition, their expert witnesses and their rights to oppose this project and make presentation to the joint review panel. Mr. Secord’s closing arguments referred to the decision made by the panel in 2003 that denied this project and highlighted for the joint review panel that the facts related to the reasons for denying the application in 2003 still stand today. The joint review panel adjourned at 7:20p.m. A decision is expected within 90 days. The Coalition respectfully submits that the panel must conclude this application must be denied.

    Day 4 – Dunvegan Special Report On Thursday, Sept 25, following early morning discussions about the agreements that Glacier Power has with the Town of Peace River and B.C. Hydro, the Government of Canada panel, including Transport Canada and Department of Fisheries and Oceans. Of interest was the clarification of DFO’s role in the province of Alberta. Ms. Gabrielle Kosmider explained “DFO serves as the managers of the fish habitat, and we work very close with the provincial government, specifically ASRD, who manage the fish and fish populations, they serve as the fish managers.” She further explained that the whitefish and bull trout populations are of concern, that they are unique in that they are located in the transition zone between cool water and cold water, and that the genetic characteristics of these species and populations are valued. The Coalition panel included Dr. Michael Church, David Mayhood and Chris Wearmouth. Their evidence included that of the written submission with emphasis on geomorphology and sedimentation and the calculations to determine the headpond size, gaps in the EIA, and impacts of this project on the Peace River fish and their habitat and the need for the project. The Coalition panel was cross examined and excused. During his testimony, Mr. Mayhood reflected on a particularly meaningful quote from Aldo Leopold who said that the first rule of intelligent tinkering is to keep all the parts. And the first rule of keeping all the parts is to know where they are, and where they go, and what they do. ACFN (Pat Marcel) gave evidence and was followed by the B.C. Hydro panel. The hearings sat until 7:30p.m.

    Day 3 – Dunvegan Special Report Fairview, Alberta. Today proved to be a long day in the hearing of the Dunvegan Hydroelectric Project. From 8:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. the future of the Peace River at Dunvegan was discussed. The day began with the Joint Panel continuing their questioning of the proponent of the project, Glacier Power. After counsel redirected, Dr. Faye Hicks, an expert on ice regimes made a brief presentation and answered questions regarding her views of the project’s impacts on the characteristics of ice on the Peace River, including its formation and break-up. The Concerned Residents for the Ongoing Service at Shaftesbury were up next followed by the Government of Canada. The day ended with a presentation by Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) on the fishways that are propsed and were designed collabratively between Glacier Power and DFO. Tomorrow is the big day for AWA. We expect to make our presentation and field questions in the afternoon. A transcript of the day is available online at http://mail.tscript.com/trans/nrcb/sep_24_08/index.htm

    Day 2 – Dunvegan Special Report Fairview, Alberta. This is the second day of the joint hearing regarding the Dunvegan Hydroelectric Project. Richard Secord resumed cross-examination today of the proponent of the dam, Glacier Power, on behalf of a coalition of local and provincial environmental groups, of which AWA is a member. Secord questioned Glacier’s experts in regards to the reports produced for the Coalition by Dr. Michael Church of the University of British Columbia on hydrology and geomorphology and Dave Mayhood of FWR Freshwater Research Ltd. on the project’s impacts to the fisheries of the Peace River. After Mr. Secord was finished the lawyer for the Joint Review Panel and the Panel themselves began cross-examination of Glacier Power. The Panel’s questioning continues tomorrow. A particular interesting part of the day arose when it came to light that Glacier Power has both a confidential agreement with BC Hydro and another with the Town of Peace River. It was questioned whether the Joint Review Panel could fully evaluate the project if aspects of it were contained in secret agreements outside of the Panel’s knowledge. Further discussion of this matter is expected.

    Day 1 – Dunvegan Special Report Fairview Alberta. The hearing for Glacier Power’s Dunvegan Hydroelectric Project application began in Fairview. Glacier Power presented a lengthy opening statement followed by their response to the submissions by other interested parties. The coalition of Alberta Wilderness Association, Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (Northern Alberta Chapter), South Peace Environmental Association, and the Peace Parklands Naturalists was the focus of much of this response, earning 19 pages of their rebuttal. After Glacier Power’s presentation, cross-examination got underway. The Government of Canada asked to delay their questioning due to experts that had not yet arrived. BC Hydro declined to ask questions of Glacier. Next, Ron Kruhlak, representing the Concerned Residents for Ongoing Service at Shaftebury queried Glacier Power . Kruhlak questioned why they had been unable to come to an agreement with his clients regarding the disruption of transportation at the crossing due to delays in the formation of the ice bridge, should the project go ahead. The day ended with our coalition’s counsel, Richard Secord cross-examining Glacier Power in regards to the impacts the project will have on the fish populations of the Peace River. Tomorrow will once again see Mr. Secord questioning Glacier Power as to the effects this project will likely have on the environment, including the geomorphology and fisheries. Transcripts of the proceeding are publicly available online through tscript.com. – Chris Wearmouth

    September 2008

    The Coalition participates as interveners in the federal-provincial Joint Review Panel hearing into the Glacier Power Dunvegan hydro proposal. The Coalition calls as witnesses: AWA conservation specialist Chris Wearmouth, aquatic ecologist David Mayhood and Dr. Michael Church, authority on Peace River morphology under the influence of dam regulation.

    On cumulative effects: Glacier states that the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency agrees with its scenarios, including that Bennett Dam effects are part of the ‘baseline’ case. While BC Hydro’s Site C dam proposal had been announced, Glacier stated that there was no project-specific information available to assess. The Coalition stated that cumulative effects were not realistically considered, including the role of past development on the study area and the basin as a whole, and that this is essential to determine whether the basin can accommodate another major development without pushing the aquatic ecosystem over a critical threshold.

    August 2008

    Four environmental groups referred to as “the Coalition” – AWA, CPAWS Northern Alberta, Peace Parkland Naturalists and South Peace Environment Association – submit comments to the federal-provincial Joint Review Panel (JRP) for the October 2008 JRP hearing into the Glacier Power Dunvegan hydro proposal. The Coalition requests that the project be rejected because of unacceptable adverse impacts that will not be mitigated. They state that Glacier’s information is deficient on impacts to: Peace River morphology – and therefore on sedimentation, water flows and ice formation; fish populations and fish habitat; rare plants; and wildlife habitat. The coalition requests that alternative means of power generation be analyzed.

    2007

    The NRCB and AEUB provide joint notice on December 21, 2007 of pre-hearing meeting and joint notice of hearing for the Peace River Area based on Glacier Power Ltd. Dunvegan Hydro-Electric Facility application for approval to construct and operate an 100-megawatt, run-of-the-river hydroelectric facility on the Peace River 2km upstream of the Dunvegan Bridge.

    October 2006

    Glacier Power submits another application and Environmental Impacts Assessment (EIA) for a Dunvegan hydroelectric power project to Alberta’s EUB and NRCB.

    July 2004

    At Glacier Power’s request, Alberta Environment issues a Terms of Reference for an Environmental Impacts Assessment (EIA) for another Dunvegan hydroelectric project proposal, at the same location in Alberta’s Peace River Valley. The EIA is required to fulfill requirements under provincial laws as well as the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act.

    2004

    Fisheries and Oceans Canada and Transport Canada announce that they will conduct a screening commencing May 12, 2004 of Glacier Power’s proposed Dunvegan Hydroelectric Project. The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency will act as the Federal Environmental Assessment Coordinator for this environmental assessment. Glacier Power, a subsidiary of Canadian Hydro Developers, wins support from the Town of Peace River for a proposed $200-million, 100-megawatt “run of river” hydroelectric project on the Peace River. The company has signed a detailed memorandum with the town, undertaking several commitments to mitigate against flooding. Glacier Power anticipates a public hearing in spring 2005. Pending approval, construction would begin in 2006 (EnviroLine vol. 15, no. 9/10).

    March 2003

    The EUB and NRCB deny Glacier Power’s application to build a six-metre high, power-generating weir across the Peace River just upstream of the Highway 2 bridge at Dunvegan. “In its findings, the Panel noted that while each of the potential negative economic, social, and environmental effects of the project, if they were to occur, are substantive on their own, their cumulative effect clearly outweighs the social and economic benefits of the project to the local community, as well as to Albertans in general.” With respect to fish population impacts, the Panel notes the absence of clear baseline information and numerous unresolved questions regarding both upstream and downstream passage of fish. Canadian Hydro Developers Inc. makes a formal request to the EUB and the NRCB for a review of their rejection of the company’s proposed $200 million, 80-megawatt Dunvegan “run of river” hydroelectric project on the Peace River. The company says it now has an agreement-in-principle with the Town of Peace River to address the town’s concerns about potential flooding. Canadian Hydro says it is hoping to get a new hearing and a new decision by the end of 2004 or early 2005 (EnviroLine vol. 14, no. 17/18).

    October 2002

    “Friends of the Peace” participate as interveners in the EUB/NRCB hearing into the Glacier Power Dunvegan hydro proposal.

    September 13, 2002

    In their submission to the hearing regarding the Dunvegan Hydroelectric Project, Friends of the Peace (including AWA) made the following points:

    • This project should be denied based on the significant negative impacts on the Peace River.
    • Public participation has been very inadequate.
    • Glacier Power has not met the EUB/NRCB requirements with respect to providing information to stakeholders
    • There must be a full public Panel Review of this project under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act.
    • Glacier Power must be required to conduct the studies necessary to ensure that fish and wildlife issues, slumping, and cumulative effects are properly assessed.

    The rest of the submission includes information on potential impact of the project on fish, stream flows, slumping, other wildlife, and transportation, as well as cumulative effects, including those related to the Bennett Dam in B.C.

    Sept. 2002

    “Friends of the Peace” submit comments to the Natural Resources Conservation Board for the October 2002 EUB/NRCB hearing into the Glacier Power Dunvegan hydro proposal. They also request a full public Review Panel under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act to strengthen environment review requirements, and to enable greater intervener capacity to examine this project appropriately. The Friends request further scientific data on fish populations, fish passage, valley slope slumping risks, and wildlife crossings. They outline concerns with adverse effects to the Peace River ecosystem from the project and also from cumulative development impacts, notably BC Hydro’s Bennett Dam and foreseeable future projects’ impacts. The Friends request that alternative means of power generation be analyzed. Overall, the Friends request that the project be rejected because of significant project and cumulative adverse negative impacts that will not be mitigated.

    August 2002

    Glacier Power submits a revised project description. The changes include an altered fishway design: the two fishways, located at each end of the structure, were decreased in width to 10 m, and downstream fish bypass structures were included in the powerhouse design.

    March 2002

    Glacier Power submits a revised project description in its replies to supplemental information requests from provincial authorities. The changes include an altered fishway design of two 50 meter wide fishway passages developed in consultation with federal government Department of Fisheries and Oceans and Alberta government department of Sustainable Resource Development.

    2002

    AWA calls for a comprehensive federal or joint federal-provincial environmental review of Canadian Hydro Developers’ proposed run-of-river hydroelectric project on the Peace River to investigate the social, environmental, and economic impacts of the project. Canadian Hydro says such a review isn’t necessary. The Peace is an important fishery and recreational river and the project may further impact the Peace-Athabasca Delta in Wood Buffalo National Park. The project may also interfere with future efforts to enable flooding of the delta, which has already been seriously affected by the Bennett Dam on the Peace in B.C.

    October 2001

    A public hearing on the proposed Dunvegan weir project is adjourned until June 17, 2002 to allow Canadian Hydro Developers to provide additional information requested by the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans and Alberta Environment.

    August 2001

    The Department of Fisheries and Oceans concludes that “the Department cannot proceed with completing its environmental review [of the proposed Dunvegan weir project] under CEAA until additional information has been provided” (letter to Glacier Power, August 27).

    June 2001

    June 16: The EUB and NRCB hold a prehearing regarding Glacier Power’s proposed Dunvegan weir project in Fairview. In its subsequent report, the joint Panel notes a number of issues that need to be addressed at the hearing, including the project’s impact on

    • the river flow, including potential for slumping and erosion
    • the river’s ice regime and associated impacts on flooding and vehicle access across the river
    • fish movements and populations, wildlife populations, and habitat A public hearing by the joint EUB/NRCB panel is scheduled for Oct. 2, 2001.

    In AWA’s submission for the EUB/NRCB prehearing regarding Glacier Power’s proposed Dunvegan weir project, concerns are expressed regarding the lack of information provided by Glacier Power about the following:

    • The impact of the project on fish species
    • Valley wall stability
    • The impact on recreation and on the Environmentally Significant Areas in the region.
    • Downstream effects: Glacier Power predicts open water below the weir up to 80 km in some winters. The effects on wildlife movement are not adequately addressed.

    2001

    Canadian Hydro Developers announce that its environmental impact assessment for the Dunvegan run-of-river project on the Peace River has been reviewed and judged complete by Alberta Environment and other federal and provincial regulatory agencies.

    2000

    June 19: Glacier Power Ltd., a subsidiary of Canadian Hydroelectric Developers Inc., files an application with the NRCB and EUB to construct and operate the Dunvegan Hydroelectric Project on the Peace River two kilometres upstream of the Highway 2 bridge at Dunvegan. The proposed project would include a 6-metre high weir, which would back up the river for 15 km, flooding about 50 to 100 hectares. Although the site is attractive for the project, its scenic qualities also make it a prime protection site, according to Helene Walsh, who sits on the local SP2000 committee.

    1999

    April 22: Glacier Power holds a public open house in Fairview regarding its proposed “run-of-river” project on the Peace River and declares that the “attendance and response were excellent. 150 people attended, and of the 57 who indicated an opinion, 53 were in support of the project.”

    Mid-1980s

    The high, walled canyon-like reach of the river south of the town of Fairview is studied as a possible site for the Dunvegan Dam and Reservoir.

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- Wallace Stegner
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