Mike Ries

First power line towers installed

The first towers for the Northwest Transmission Line megaproject are already up

IT MAY not have had the splash of a champagne bottle smashing against a ship’s hull or a ceremonial ribbon cutting, but the first towers for the Northwest Transmission Line megaproject are already up.

They’re called monopoles because that’s exactly what they are – one large pole.

There are 75 being erected in the Bob Quinn area, the terminus point for the 344km long transmission line which is to connect the Highway 37 North area with BC Hydro’s provincial power grid.

“It’s where the right of way is pretty narrow and the conditions were such we could go ahead,” explained Valard president Adam Budzinski of the monopoles’ installation, adding that getting the poles in before the snow arrived was highly desirable.

The poles are the first of 1,100 to be erected along the transmission line route between BC Hydro’s Skeena Substation, just south of Terrace, up to the new substation at Bob Quinn along Hwy37 North.

Edmonton-based Valard is the main construction contractor for the $561 million project, working in concert with the engineering design firm of Burns and McDonnell.

The company is running four construction camps – one at Kitsumkalum just up the West Kalum Lake Forestry Road from its intersection with Hwy16, the other at Bob Quinn and two more, one of  which is in the Nass Valley, along the transmission route.

The Kitsumkalum and Bob Quinn camps are larger than the other two and are currently housing  workers from other companies connected to the project in addition to people from Valard.

Budzinski says a lot of preparation work is still going on in terms of clearing the right of way along the route itself and in readying foundations for the towers themselves.

“Next year is when you’re going to see the tower work really start,” he said.

“When everything is in place, we can put up 20 [towers] a day.”

Contracts for clearing the right of way went to each First Nation that has traditional territory on the transmission line route and to the Nisga’a Nation.

Those contracts were directly awarded by BC Hydro and are independent of Valard although the company is managing the clearing contract for the Tahltan whose traditional territory is at the northern end of the route.

The steel lattice pieces for towers have been arriving from India via ship at Prince Rupert and are then trucked to a large storage yard at the Kitsumkalum camp. Assembly takes place in the field.

Budzinski says a lot of preparation work is still going on in clearing the right of way along the route itself and in readying foundations for the towers themselves.

“Next year is when you’re going to see the tower work really start,” he said.

“Transmission line work is slow in the winter because of the snow. We’ll be taking people out as the snow shuts us down.”

But when next spring arrives and the snow disappears, Budzinski said the pace of work will pick up.

“When everything is in place, we can put up 20 [towers] a day.”

Valard’s own workforce is a combination of employees brought in from the outside and local hires

The company conducted job interviews in the area late last year with an emphasis on First Nations but taking in other people as well, said Budzinski.

That resulted in the hiring of 38 people who were then sent to Fort McMurray and to northeastern BC to train and work on Valard projects in those places.

“Of the 38 hired, we hired 35 back and we’re going to be hiring 10 additional people,” said Budzinski.

“We also have local hires in the [Terrace] office and we have local hires through sub contractors.”

As of mid October, direct hire aboriginal employees have accounted for about 16,000 person hours of employment.

But Budzinski was also clear in saying that the company has a workforce that lives across the country in as many places as where the company has projects and having needed specialized skills.

“We must provide experienced people to do this work,” he said of the transmission line business.