Gov’ts urged to approve power line

GOVERNMENT cabinet ministers are being urged to give quick approval to a project many see as the catalyst for the economic future of the northwest.

The completed environmental assessment for the long-planned Northwest Transmission Line (NTL) was presented to provincial mines minister Pat Bell and environment minister Murray Coell Jan. 13.

The two now have 45 days in which to decide whether the $404 million project should receive environmental approval or not.

At 340km in length from BC Hydro’s Skeena Substation near Terrace up Hwy 37 North, the transmission line is expected to lead to the development of at least two mines.

It will also transmit power from at least one large run of river project, the Forrest Kerr project on the Iskut River, southward.

The anticipated two mines, the Forrest Kerr run of river project and the transmission line itself amount to several billion dollars of expenditures within the next three years.

“BC Hydro is very pleased that the NTL Application for an Environmental Assessment Certificate has entered into the final phase of the [environmental approval] process,” senior BC Hydro official Tim Jennings said late Jan. 13.

“We’d like to acknowledge First Nations, Nisga’a Nation, government agencies, stakeholders and members of the public who have participated to date and whose input has helped to strengthen the application,” he added.

BC Hydro has pegged a start date of spring 2011 for construction leading to a completion date of late 2013.

“We look forward to beginning construction of the NTL as soon as the required approvals and permits are in place,” said Jennings.

Members of the local business community are urging Bell and Coell to make a decision quickly.

“The sooner it happens the better,” said Nino Roldo of Rolcan Fabrications.

“We need something up here and quickly,” he said. “We’ve been in a recession for 10 years and that’s long enough.” Roldo brought together a group of Terrace and Kitimat businesses last spring to express support for the line as its environmental assessment period began.

“There are going to be hundreds of jobs and it’s jobs this area needs,” he continued. “But it all depends on the power line.”

Another businessman, Michael Farrar, noted that there is no opposition to the project and that no overriding environmental problems surfaced during the assessment.

“Finally, we have a chance to recover from the economic devastation of the past,” said Farrar referring to the collapse of the region’s forest industry beginning in the late 1990s.

Farrar also noted that the federal government has committed $130 million and Forrest Kerr owner AltaGas $180 million toward the estimated $404 million project cost.

“That leaves $94 million for the province. That’s what we’re down to – $94 million. Let’s go,” he said.

The federal government must also give its approval for the power line.

Unlike the provincial requirement for a response within 45 days, there is no federal time limit. But officials have pledged to do their best to act within the provincial 45-day limit.

And while there’s no indication when provincial cabinet ministers Bell and Coell might release their decision, an annual gathering of miners and others takes place Jan. 24-27 in Vancouver.

Called the Mineral Exploration Roundup, it’s the second largest of its type in North America.

Minister of State for Mining Randy Hawes gives opening remarks Jan. 24 and Premier Gordon Campbell is the keynote speaker at a banquet Jan. 26.

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