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Hydro connection through Yoho National Park

Petition: No. 4

Issue(s): Biological diversity and environmental assessment

Petitioner(s): Graeme Pole

Date Received: 1 April 1997

Status: Completed

Summary: The proposed construction of an overhead power transmission line through part of Yoho National Park prompted this petition. The federal agency involved is Parks Canada (when the petition was submitted, the agency was still part of the Department of Canadian Heritage). The petitioner contended that Parks Canada violated its own operational policy, the Yoho National Park Management Plan, and federal park regulations. He was particularly critical of the environmental assessment conducted for the project. 

Federal Departments Responsible for Reply: Canadian Heritage


March 3, 1997

Brian Emmett
Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development
CD Howe Building, West Tower, 11th Floor
240 Sparks St.
Ottawa, Ontario
K1A 0A6

Dear Mr. Emmett:

This submission is made with regard to Bill C-83, Section 22, Subsection 1. The matter I address is the connection of Field, BC to the BC Hydro electrical grid. The agency involved is Parks Canada.

The grid connection involved construction of an overhead power transmission line between Golden, BC and Field, with some 31 km within Yoho National Park. Construction was from August 1996 to February 1997. I contend that with regard to this project, Parks Canada violated its own Operational Policy, violated the Yoho National Park Management Plan, contravened Regulations persuant to the National Parks Act, violated the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, and was in a position of conflict of interest. The following list summarizes the major items of note.

  • Survey stakes for construction of the grid were placed in October 1995, prior to the completion of an environmental assessment.
  • Parks Canada routinely failed to reply to requests from the public for information on this project, before the Draft Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) was delivered in mid-May 1996.
  • The Draft EIA was a pathetic document from points of view of science, scope, policy and procedure. It projected that construction would commence at the end of May 1996—allowing two weeks for the public to submit comments, for these comments to be addressed, and for the project to be tendered.
  • Public submissions shredded the Draft EIA. All parties who made submissions requested the opportunity to comment on a revised EIA before approval of the project.
  • The revised EIA was delivered on August 23, 1996. Construction of the project began August 27, 1996. There was no further opportunity for public comment, despite the fact that serious concerns were unaddressed:
    1. There was no cumulative effects assessment in the regional context.
    2. There was no cap placed on electricity available at Field as a means of limiting growth.
    3. Overhead routing was advocated in highly visible areas, in violation of the Yoho National Park Management Plan.
    4. The EIA incorporated references to future expansions of the gird, whereas any additional expansions to the grid require a separate EIA, and should not have influenced the original assessment.
    5. Parks Canada will save $40,000.00 annually in electricity costs by way of the grid connection, hence was in a position of conflict of interest in evaluating the impacts.
    6. Overhead routing immediately west of Field duplicated the existing underground routing of an electrical powerline, thereby creating a new utility right of way, in violation of the National Parks Act.
    7. The EIA failed to demonstrate any net environmental gain that would result from the project.
  • The revised EIA included wording that indicated Parks Canada had approved the project prior to completion of the EIA, in violation of the CEAA.

The enclosures provide an idea of some of the correspondence generated by this project, and the tactics that Parks Canada used to avoid following its own policy, and to avoid carrying out its mandate to protect Yoho National Park. (With the exception of the letter of August 29, 1996, to Jean Boutet, all of this correspondence went unanswered.) Unfortunately, this is the normal state of affairs.

I hope that your office will bring the hypocrisy and shoddy handling of the BC Hydro grid connection to light, and effect a change in the status quo of "approve and mitigate" that drives the current environmental assessment process in Canada's national parks.


[Original signed by Graeme Pole]

Graeme Pole

[top of page]

Minister's Response: Canadian Heritage

27 May 1997

Ms. Patti-Lou Fowlow
Petitions Coordinator
Office of the Auditor General of Canada
240 Sparks Street
Ottawa, Ontario
K1A 0G6

Dear Ms. Fowlow:

The Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, Mr. Brian Emmett has forwarded to the Honourable Sheila Copps, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Canadian Heritage, a copy of a letter from Mr. Graeme Pole, concerning the recently constructed hydro line from Golden to Field, British Columbia. I am replying on behalf of Ms. Copps.

The hydro-line project underwent an environmental assessment as directed under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, and all requirements under the Act were fulfilled. The environmental assessment screening concluded that the impacts of the project were insignificant or mitigable with known technology.

Over a period of one year, Parks Canada provided the public with a variety of opportunities, such as public meetings, notices and comment periods, regarding all stages of the environmental assessment process. All public comments were given full consideration prior to a final project determination.

Alternatives to the placement of the new hydro line were investigated and discounted for a variety of reasons, including safety, access and economics. In the long term, the hydro line will be a more environmentally acceptable and cost-efficient method of providing power to the community of Field. Furthermore, to help prevent soil and slope erosion, low-growing native plant species will be transplanted along the section of the line that crosses Kicking Horse River at Five Mile Bridge. This measure will also help to improve the visual aesthetics in the area.

I trust that this information is useful. Please accept our best wishes.

Yours sincerely,

[Original signed by Jean Boutet]

Jean Boutet
Policy Advisor
[Office of the Deputy Prime Minister and the Minister of Canadian Heritage]