Note: I don't post news stories I've done as a rule, but this is quite interesting.
VICTORIA - The Columbia Basin Trust is laying the groundwork to buy more than $200 million worth of dams and power plants from the province.
Chair Josh Smienk confirmed the trust has taken the first steps towards exercising its option to buy the Columbia Power Corp. (CPC), giving it total control over three power plants and other assets in the Kootenays.
The move is the latest twist in the trust's tangled recent history, and represents a 180-degree shift from last year's abandoned plan to sell its share in the power projects.
"The first step is gathering information and analysing it," Smienk said.
Economic Development Minister Colin Hansen confirmed the government is working with the trust to asses the deal.
"We certainly haven't come to any conclusions in that regard," said Hansen, who has just taken over responsibility for the trust from Energy Minister Richard Neufeld.
The trust and the power corporation are both Crown corporations, set up by the NDP in the mid-90s as part of an effort to deliver some of the benefits from the 1961 Columbia Treaty to the region.
The two corporations are equal partners in the power developments, with the original intent that Columbia Power Corp. build and operate the dams and the trust distribute profits and income from investments to the communities.
But the relationship has become strained over a range of issues and the trust is looking at gaining total control.
Smienk said the construction phase is largely complete.
"We're looking at some to form some permanent closure to the initiative," said Smienk. "It allows for the transfer of the management of the assets to the region."
The future of the trust and Columbia Power Corporation have been uncertain for the more than a year.
In January of 2004 the provincial government announced its intention to give the trust control over the CPC, and create a new power company to manage the assets.
That project was abandoned when the trust's directors told the government it wanted to sell its share of the projects to BC Hydro.
The government agreed it would also sell Columbia Power Corp.'s interests in the joint ventures to BC Hydro.
But the deal fell apart in the face of fierce opposition in the region.
And in January, Neufeld said said the existing structure would remain in place.
The Columbia Power Corporation wrote off $750,000 in costs related to the abandoned restructuring effort.
Now the push for change is on again.
Smienk said the possible purchase would be on the agenda when the trust holds a community meeting in Cranbrook this weekend.
Nelson NDP MLA Corky Evans, the party's energy critic, said he's reserving judgment on the proposal.
Last year's plan to sell the power assets was poorly explained and the public felt excluded from the process, he said.
"The trust is now putting forward the opposite alternative," he said. "I don't know if that's a good idea."
Community control and influence over the trust has been weakened since 2001, Evans said. "The trust went into the core review process and never really came out."
The NDP government gave the trust an option to buy Columbia Power Corporation's assets in 2001, just before the election.
The option expires at the end of this month, but the Liberals have agreed to extend it to the fall.