Above Photo: Kristin Henry & Sage Birley pictured outside BC Hydro
Five days ago, Kristin Henry started a personal hunger strike to protest B.C. Hydro’s Site C Dam project. She, along with some other supporters, have camped outside the provincial utility company’s head office in downtown Vancouver.
Earlier this month, supporters of Treaty 8 Stewards of the Land began a daily, 9-hour hunger strike after B.C. Hydro was granted an injunction against protesters at Site C. This culminated in a rally outside of B.C. Hydro on Sunday March 13, which drew about 50 protesters.
Now, Henry has carried on the strike and hasn’t eaten since the rally.
“Spirits are high; the sun’s out so I feel pretty good,” she told rabble. “But my brain’s getting a little tired.”
A lack of food will do that to you and Sage Birley, a Peace Region farmer who has recently joined Henry’s protest. Birley commented that northern B.C. is “food insecure” — a struggle that only adds meaning to the hunger strike and exemplifies Site C’s agricultural value.
“One commodity that’s seen a steady increase in value lately has been the price of food,” he said. “If you look at what [the Peace River Valley] could do in regards to food security, it’s absolutely incredible. It could feed a million people.”
While northeastern B.C. might not seem like it would have an ideal agricultural landscape, Anna Johnston from West Coast Environmental Law explained to rabble in a previous interview why the Peace River Valley is so valuable.
First of all, she outlined that Site C runs along an 83 kilometre long section of the Peace River that provides fertile soil. The valley also has south facing slopes, creating a unique, warm microclimate in the area. Finally, because the region is so far north, the summer provides long growing days for agriculture.
“The Peace River Valley contains some of the best agricultural land in northern B.C.,” said Johnston. “They have fruit trees. They’re growing peaches and cherries. People grow blueberries and melons.”
In spite of this ideal agricultural landscape, Johnston said that not as many farmers have taken advantage of the area as there is potential for. She suggested that this is because, when dam projects were proposed in the Peace River Valley as early as the mid-twentieth century, a flood reserve was established in the area which discouraged farmers from wanting to invest in the land.
“Who wants to spend a bunch of money in equipment and soil to turn those lands into high production agricultural lands knowing that there’s a risk that in 10 or 15 years it’s all going to get flooded away,” she said. “There’s not nearly as much farming that goes on in the valley as there could be.”
While there are many reasons why they are proposing the project, both Birley and Henry commented that pushing ahead with the Site C dam and flooding this productive land seems to contradict the claim B.C. Liberals’ made in their throne speech in February to support food supply security.
“I see those two things as in direct contrast,” said Birley. “You can’t talk about food security in the north and then say Site C needs to go through because the Peace River Valley is our only opportunity of food security.”
NDP MLA and BC Hydro critic, Adrian Dix, told rabble in a phone interview that Site C is problematic because it hasn’t gone through a substantial review process to determine whether or not the benefits of the proposed project outweigh the costs.
“It’s indisputable that there costs of agricultural land,” he said. “The question is…do the benefits in any way outweigh the costs?”
Dix explained that conducting a review from the B.C. Utilities Commission would shed light on this question and that — as long as proper procedure is followed — he’s open to either response.
“They may argue, in spite of the evidence which all comes from B.C. Hydro, that I’m wrong and there’s a requirement for domestic demand,” he said. “Let’s make that argument.”
In the meantime, Henry says she will continue her hunger strike until the dam’s construction is halted.
“We’re at a tipping point where there’s more polluted air than not,” she said. “It’s kind of globally irresponsible to destroy such a beautiful valley that has intact wilderness and wildlife and biodiversity, let alone the 5,000 hectares of agricultural land that could feed a million people.”
BC Hydro did not repond to request for comment before publication time. Previously the company noted it respects the right of all individuals to express their opinions about Site C when they do so in a safe and lawful manner.
Alyse Kotyk is a Vancouver-based writer and editor with a passion for social justice and storytelling. She studied English Literature and Global Development at Queen’s University and is excited by media that digs deep, asks questions and shares narratives. Alyse was the Editor of Servants Quarters and has written for the Queen’s News Centre, Quietly Media and the Vancouver Observer. She is now rabble’s News Intern.