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Northwest Transmission Line work intensifies

CREWS are hard at work stringing wire on towers along the 344 kilometre long Northwest Transmission LIne. - JOSH MASSEY
CREWS are hard at work stringing wire on towers along the 344 kilometre long Northwest Transmission LIne.
— image credit: JOSH MASSEY

THE company building BC Hydro's massive Northwest Transmission Line expects to have the wmajority of its towers complete by the end of the year leading to a planned completion date of late spring next year.

Speaking recently, Valard president Adam Budzinski described the project, which will run 344 kilometres from BC Hydro's Skeena Substation just south of Terrace to a new substation under construction at Bob Quinn alongside Bob Quinn on Hwy37 North, as one of the more challenging the Edmonton-based company has undertaken.

“It's not really one project, it's three or four,” said Budzinski of work going on simultaneously along the line's route.

Being installed for the 287 kilovolt line are 1,100 towers to carry 2,100 kilometres of conductor wire to both provide electricity to projects in the north and to feed power generated by hydro-electric projects into the provincial grid. Building access roads to tower locations has been challenging as has the need to establish  camps along the route for workers, Budzinski  said.

One main camp is at Kitsumkalum and there's another on the northern end of the line with several smaller ones in between.

Heavy lift helicopters are being used when needed to put towers into place while smaller helicopters string conductor wire from tower to tower.

Right now, crews are working with helicopters to finish sections of the line within sensitive mountain goat winter range habitat before the Dec. 15 deadline for work to be finished.

“We will be done [on time] within the environmental exclusion zones,” said Budzinski.

Normally, work within mountain goat winter ranges isn't allowed at this time of year but it is being permitted up until Dec. 15 as long as there are no goats in the area of the work.

Valard has assembled a workforce of approximately 450 people for the project of which nearly 350 come from the northwest.

Latest available statistics put the aboriginal component at 165 workers, a key part of Valard's workplan.

“We've been going direct to the villages,” he said of Valard's aboriginal hiring program. And he said a project undertaken in Prince Rupert earlier gave the company a foothold in putting together its northwest work force.

Typically, newer hires begin work on crews putting in foundations for transmission towers.

If the work itself has been complex, so has the financial aspect of the transmission line.

From a projected cost of $404 million when announced in 2009, the price tag has been steadily rising to a new figure, released this spring, of $746 million.

BC Hydro said some of the added expense came in the form of building access roads into more challenging terrain than first thought and in adding project components not factored in when the budget was first set.

Budzinksi declined to go into detail when asked if Valard's contract was increased because of overall construction difficulty but did say the company was holding its own.

A statement provided later by BC Hydro did confirm the Valard contract now takes into account the costs incurred for delays due to the right of way clearing and construction access road building taking longer than scheduled.

The dollar value of the Valard contract has also increased, said the BC Hydro email.

“Valard can apply to BC Hydro for additional payment if the cost of specific aspects of the project have increased due to circumstances beyond Valard’s control. Valard has made such claims to BC Hydro,” the statement continued.

The large Northwest Transmission Line contract has also given Valard the opportunity to work on other projects in the region. It built a power line connecting the Long Lake hydro project located near Stewart to the provincial grid. And it was hired by AltaGas to build power lines from Iskut River run of river projects to the new Bob Quinn substation.

Valard was, however, unsuccessful in securing a large contract – a power line running approximately 100 kilometres north of the new Bob Quinn substation to the Red Chris copper and gold mine being built by Imperial Metals.

Still, Budzinski said Valard is talking to other companies in the area in anticipation of lining up smaller amounts of work. It means moving out of the company’s large office it has leased out in Terrace with the transmission line’s engineering design company, Burns McDonnell.

“We’ll be keeping a few people in Terrace in a smaller office,” said Budzinski.

And to answer one key question – how many pickups, mostly painted in Valard’s distinctive power blue colour, the company has in the region – the answer is 211. “We’re owned by Quanta and it has the 10th largest fleet in North America,” said Budzinski. Quanta is a Houston-based energy services company. It purchased Valard in 2010.

 

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