“I represent Don Peck Holdings Limited which is now a farming and ranching company, which my late husband Don and I built up over the years. Although our opponents like to designate us as the protest industry, I think it important that you all understand that people like us are the history of this Peace River country.
I am not a “Greenpeacer” and God knows I’m not against progress as such. We have made our living selling a renewable resource, big game hunting and fur.
My husband Don was born on a trapline near the present site of Tumbler Ridge, but was raised at Hudson Hope and trapped the Peace River Valley. My own family came to the Peace River country in 1928. I was raised on a homestead four miles north of Fort St. John, which my brother farm’s today.
I taught school and served in the R.C.A.F. in Canada and Overseas. I spend my vacation up the Peace River at a place called Carven River. It was a traumatic experience for my dad to see the waters go over his holdings there and at the age of 80, to go to court in expropriation proceedings. I guess one might say he didn’t entirely lose that round. At any rate, my family has been down this route before with BC Hydro.
Don and I had run a lodge on the Alaska highway for fourteen years and when we moved down to Fort St. John we were determined to have a piece of that valley. We acquired our land on the Peace River between the years 1965 and 1973.
The first parcel we bought had belonged to a Frenchman called Dominic Le Fevre and it was a Soldier Settlement grant from the First World War. This holding consisted of two deeded quarters and a lease.
Please note that this lease is prime agricultural land, some of that irreplaceable bottom land soil, and was originally, when we acquired it, I quote, “a lease for residential and agricultural purposes”.
However, when it came up for renewal in 1968, it ended up for grazing purposes only, and of course, it had that 90 day cancellation and flood reserve clause in it. There was nothing we could do about that, although we tried.
So for those who shout that the valley is not being used, there’s your answer. Nevertheless, we went ahead and put together a farming-ranching operation of eight deeded quarters and various other leased lands together with a large grazing permit on the south side of the Peace. We also rent another 500 acres which adjoins. Over the years, we have been more into raising hay and stock than into raising grain, but this spring we planted 500 acres of wheat. With the dry year, we may be going back to hay and stock, which we already have.
We have to date had little dealing with Hydro, aside from receiving their usual form letters and $5.00 cheques. Earlier on, Don had had a conversation with Mr. Anderson, whom he had known through minor hockey. The gist of Don’s comments were “we probably can’t stop you but we certainly will not help you”.
Mr. Power phoned in 1978 to see if we wanted to rent the land to the west of us, known as Peace Valley Farm. In 1981, a Hydro land representative, Dave Thompson and I went down to these farms to try to settle a gate closing dispute between our respective farmers, but we have never discussed land acquisition or proposed safelines on our property. Nor has Hydro had any permission to do it — to do any surveys on it.
After being pounded by months at these hearings with reams of facts and figures, I have to accept the decision that you, the Commission panel, make. I am not a technician but I am a landowner and I do have concerns. I’m not asking for anything I don’t already have. It is of no benefit to me in any way to settle with Hydro. If I take dollars, the government taxes half in capital gains. If I ask for exchange in land, where can I get something similar that fits into our operation? Any comparable land to re-buy is nonexistent.
Yes, there is, of course, the marginal land that needs liming as suggested by our real estate, alias ‘farmer’ friend at the informal hearings.
Ours is in a unique, stock-raising location. Early spring grass on the south slopes, and when this dries up, we have the island and back channels until the stubble fields are free in the fall. On the south side of the river, directly across, we have a grazing permit for 60 horses. Today, we can sometimes ford the river on horseback, or run a small boat across to salt and check the stock. If a lake is formed, we’ll have to go miles around.
I’ve listened to the statements on river fluctuation and flood control. I do know that at this time the river goes up and down like a yo-yo, as any rancher can attest who tries to fence to the water. One morning, the end of the fence may be 10 feet up the bank and by nightfall, the same fence can be 10 feet out in the river. This rise and fall affects watering stock in the winter. We are forced to open a water hole daily so that the stock won’t get out on the shore ice and fall in. In summer cows get stranded out on an island that was mainland only hours before. True, Hydro usually notifies us of all sudden rises of water, but cows are not noted for listening to the radio.
We farmed just above Tea Creek slide area. I wonder what will happen to the farmland if the slide occurs and the water is blocked behind the dam. Hydro’s only concern seems to be that the water doesn’t pour over the dam.
As a farmer, I’m appalled at Hydro’s recreation impact assessment, and I quote, “Increased access to the shoreline should more than compensate for scenic quality.”
And by MLA Tony Brummet’s 10-acre lots on the south banks — that’s in our horse pasture and, incidentally in his proposed wildlife reserve — and 5-acre lots on the north side with access closer than Bear Flats. What rancher wants recreationalists on their boundaries? Fences cut, horses, shot, machinery vandalized. The last thing we want is public access. People with motor bikes, skidoos, trail bikes, dogs and guns — all running over hay fields, chasing stock, leaving gates open, littering garbage. Note that Hydro’s report says, “No recreational development [will be allowed] near the dam because of possible damage and interference with generator structures.” In other words, they love [the] public, but they love them on someone else’s bailiwick.
I wonder if I understand Hydro’s safeline policy below Farrell Creek. I want my land to run to the shoreline, as it does now, and I want access for water for my stock. I want the shoreline wherever it may be, and it would be nice if it could be a clean shoreline. If Williston is any example, we will be experiencing mud banks, crumbling slopes, and debris-blocked back channels for years to come.
The repeated phrase in Hydro’s reports – “for the life of the reservoir” – bothers me. What is the life of the Hydro dam? Will dam power be obsolete in 20 or 30 years? Are we going through this all only as a stopgap in electrical evolution? We perhaps haven’t used this land to its full potential. Have I heard the phrase, only hay land? But we haven’t hurt it either. I repeat — we haven’t hurt it.
The vegetable growing potential is still there, and would be a more viable operation if BC Hydro would lift their flood reserves. Is this flood reserve cloud to hang over my head so that I’m fighting Site C when I’m 80 years old? The land is as good today as it ever was, but can we say the same thing in 10 or 20 years time? There’s no turning back the clock, once it becomes that cesspool of mud and silt and floating trees. You can’t reverse the process.
Twenty years ago old Charlie Cunningham gained brownie points by rooking the landowners for Hydro. He was brainwashed into thinking he was promoting a great tourist potential. In our submission I have quoted him under the fur trade on the Findlay. I wonder if he’d be disillusioned if he could see Williston today?
I would also like to mention Hydro’s registered trapline policy. My husband spent many happy hours along the river in the last few years, shooting a few squirrels, snaring a lynx, or out-smarting a coyote. This was his recreation. Last fall, on September the 4th, I attended the trapper’s meeting here in Fort St. John. The Williston Lake trappers asked questions. The beaver houses are 20 feet up the bank. The so-called gentle slopes are mudslides. Very little salvage cleanup has been done. Garbage plugs the bays, and it’s difficult to beach a boat, and the beaver are gone, died out.
The BC Agrologist, a Mr. Kelly, said that their trapline program only goes for five years, so he could do nothing about Williston.
In 1963, Don and I listened to pre-Williston promises for cheap power locally, and built an all-electric house. It was so expensive we soon converted to natural gas, and after paying utility bills this winter, I think we shall soon be heading back to the energy conservation house, and the wood stove.
So, if this dam is built, I think I want at least ten years to look back and assess the damage before I settle. May I suggest, as so many have before me — just to keep Hydro honest — that we have an on-going monitoring board, such as the petroleum resources gave here in their mediation and arbitration board.
And, lastly, I’d like to ask the panel to take a good look at British Columbia’s archaic expropriation laws. I refer you to the Cuthbert case, which has been headlined just this week and [ask you] to lay down some ground rules for further land acquisition. For those of us who want it, leave us the use of the land until the reservoir is ready for flooding. When the water comes up, leave the landowner all that doesn’t go under. Sell back to the original owner all that is left, if he wants it. After all, Hydro’s mandate is electrical power, not real estate. The last thing that we want is Hydro as a landlord.
There’s been no lack of suggestions for compensation and mitigation. You can give away anything you want, from museums to bridges, but for me and my children, we have one question to ask. Can’t you here in southern British Columbia leave a little bit of our northern heritage just like the good Lord made it?”
Commissioner Kilpatrick offered Mrs. Peck his personal compliments at the conclusion, “for your thought-provoking comments, and for your extraordinary faithful attendance at these proceedings”. Chairman Keith Henry added his appreciation for Mrs. Peck’s ability to convey her position “so succinctly and so persuasively”.