By Chris Arsenault
TORONTO (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Construction of a major dam in northern Canada is moving full steam ahead after some work was halted by an occupation by indigenous activists angry about its impact on land rights, its builders say.
At a cost of more than $8 billion, the hydro electric dam project in northwest British Columbia province will flood more than 5,000 hectares of land, the equivalent of about 5,000 rugby fields.
Local farmers and indigenous people who have lived and hunted in the area for generations say their traditional lands will be inundated to provide power to far-away urban centers.
"This is our home. We use this land," Helen Knott, an indigenous activist told the Thomson Reuters Foundation, adding, "Rivers are the arteries of Mother Earth. When you block those, the planet is going to get sick."
Knott and other campaigners dismantled a protest camp at the construction site this month following a court injunction.
Their protest lasted about two months, halting construction on part of the project.
Supporters of the dam known as Site C, which include businesses and government, say it will generate clean energy and economic growth and flood sparsely populated land in the vast hinterland.
"This project is expected to create about 10,000 construction jobs and about 33,000 direct and indirect jobs," said Dave Conway, spokesman for B.C. Hydro, the government-linked company behind the project, earlier this month.
"Protesters left the site peacefully, and work has resumed," he said.
The dam should begin producing electricity in 2024, Conway said. Much of the current work involves building labor camps for workers and clearing the land.
Four separate court cases challenging aspects of the project are making their way through Canadian courts, and more protests are planned, opponents said.
The project conflicts with long-standing treaties between indigenous people in the region and the Canadian government, a spokesman for Amnesty International said.
Northern British Columbia is already a major site of natural gas extraction and other resource projects, and the dam could leave indigenous groups unable to hunt on the land, Amnesty said.
The land they use is being chipped away, said Amnesty's spokesman Craig Benjamin.
"Year after year, project after project, little pieces have been taken away until there is almost nothing left," he said.
(Reporting by Chris Arsenault, Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking and climate change. Visit http:// news.trust.org)