THE TAHLTAN could end up lending BC Hydro money to build the Northwest Transmission Line should they approve of a wide ranging package of cash and benefits in a referendum now underway.
No dollar value has been set on how much the Tahltan could provide the crown corporation for the line, which is to cost an estimated $404 million, but the rate of return would be equivalent to the BC bond rate, now at approximately four per cent, paid over 25 years.
The Tahltan have until the end of construction of the line, now pegged for the latter part of 2013, to decide if they want to make an investment.
Similar discussions have taken place with First Nations groups on other impact benefits agreements concerning the transmission line but it isn’t known if those have advanced as far as the opportunity presented the Tahltan.
Overall, BC Hydro officials say this is the first time the corporation has put such an investment proposal on the table that is tied to a specific project.
Tahltan Central Council president Annita McPhee said the investment proposal is an indication of how the Tahltan want to take part in development on their traditional territory.
“It certainly is an innovative approach,” said McPhee of the investment idea.
The investment opportunity is but one element of many that 2,800 Tahltan are being asked to approve of in referendum voting, which began April 8 and which ends this Friday.
Tahltan Central Council negotiators, subject to voter approval, have confirmed more than $15 million in benefits including cash payments, training and education and work tied to the transmission line’s construction.
The referendum continues a series of deals being struck between BC Hydro and First Nations as well as the Nisga’a Lisims Government tied to the construction of the $404 million power line.
They reflect the passage of the line through the traditional territory of First Nations and, in the case of the Nisga’a, through core Nisga’a lands and the Lava Bed Memorial Provincial Park, which is jointly managed by the Nisga’a and the provincial government.
In the case of the Tahltan, 70km of the line passes through Tahltan traditional territory and the end of the line, a substation at Bob Quinn, is on Tahltan traditional territory.
Through the same vote now going on, Tahltan are also being asked to approve of a broad framework to cover agreements with the provincial government concerning shared decision making, resource revenue sharing, managing social and cultural impacts and energy planning and management.
That sets the stage for Tahltan benefits arising from large-scale economic development projects set to take place as a result of the transmission line.
“We need ways to protect our future interests on our territory, because of the amount of development that will take place in the future,” said McPhee of the specific benefits agreement with BC Hydro and the broader arrangement with the provincial government.
The Kitselas and the Metlakatla First Nations have also signed benefits agreements with BC Hydro but the Tahltan one is the first to go through a referendum.
The Nisga’a Lisims Government approved of its deal with BC Hydro in a session of its legislature.
Revenue sharing between the provincial government and the Tahltan is expected to cover any and all projects, including the Forrest Kerr run-of-river hydro project now underway on the Iskut River and the anticipated construction of the Galore Creek copper mine.
Those companies are also signing their own benefits agreements with the Tahltan covering jobs and training.
An first version of this story indicated the Kitkatla First Nation had signed an impact benefit agreement. That was incorrect.