THE NORTHWEST Transmission Line project is going to become a lot more visible in the city when the company doing the construction work opens offices in the old Northern Savings Credit Union building on the corner of Lazelle and Sparks the end of this month.
Renovations are nearly complete for what will be Valard’s main base of operations for the 287 kV line which will run 344 kilometres from BC Hydro’s Skeena Substation south of Terrace to Bob Quinn on Hwy37 North.
Less visible is a 50-bed camp being built approximately 5km up the West Kalum Forest Service Road thanks to a lease deal for land with the Kitsumkalum First Nation.
That camp, and an existing 100-bed facility at Bob Quinn Valard has purchased, reflect the construction plan for the line which is to be finished in early 2014.
“We’ll be doing different sections at different times, depending upon environmental considerations,” explains Valard president Adam Budzinski who was in the city last week.
Sitting in a meeting room in the Muks-Kum-Ol Housing Society’s complex on Braun St., where Valard and its partner in the project, the engineering design firm of Burns and McDonnell, worked on what turned out to be the winning construction bid and now on actual construction details, Budzinski lays out the start of the work schedule.
Following on route clearing which started at the north end of the line at Bob Quinn and on the south end at the Skeena Substation in January, Valard expects to start its construction activities in May.
The route clearing now underway is being done through agreements signed between BC Hydro and the First Nations who have traditional territory along the transmission line route.
Following on those specific agreements, the Tahltan are involved in the route clearing now underway in the north and the Kitselas on clearing leading north of the Skeena Substation to the Skeena River.
Although Valard is not directly involved in the work, it is being done to its construction and safety specifications required for the foundations and towers.
Ground conditions will dictate the kind of foundations required for the towers, said Budzinski.
Towers may either be secured to foundation structures called caissons or to concrete pads and bedrock, he added.
The steel towers themselves – all 1,100 of them – are an average 27 metres tall and are coming from the Indian firm of Gammon Industries.
“There are four or five countries active right now in the structure business and India is one of them,” said Budzinski.
The structures are being shipped through the Prince Rupert port and will be stored on Kitsumkalum territory until needed on the line route.
Exactly who will provide the power line itself and the conductors has yet to be decided.
The length of the transmission line and the total budget, now estimated by BC Hydro to be more than the $404 million first publicized, make it one of the larger projects of its type underway in North America.
While Valard is bringing in a number of its own employees for specialized work, it’ll be hiring up to 80 northwestern residents at the peak of construction.
Valard has already done some hiring and has been training a group on a transmission line project it has underway in Fort McMurray.
The group includes First Nations residents and their hiring follows a Valard policy of working with First Nations in whose traditional territory it has construction projects.
Northwestern BC workers in Fort McMurray are learning the basics of tower assembly, equipment and tool operation, safety procedures and so on.
Budzinski said the short term plan is to develop a northwestern BC workforce to work on the Northwest Transmission Line but also employees Valard can use on other projects.
The hiring of northwestern First Nations residents to work in Fort McMurray proved a double benefit to Valard.
“The First Nation in Fort McMurray, where we would have done our hiring on that project, told us they had an unemployment rate of something like 7 per cent,” said Budzinski.
“So being able to use people from here is helping us on that project,” he added.
Valard’s policy of First Nations involvement extends to keeping in touch on all aspects of its work.
That’s being helped here through the hiring of Gary Alexcee as its First Nations coordinator.
As much as Valard is focussed on the Northwest Transmission Line, it also has its eye on other power line work that will flow from the Northwest Transmission Line.
It’s the kind of work Valard has done elsewhere in the north. It’s involved in the Mount Milligan copper mine now being built north of Fort St. James and helped bring power to the now-closed Kemess copper mine northwest of Smithers.
Imperial Metals will need a line running south to the end of the Northwest Transmission Line at Bob Quinn to draw power for its Red Chris copper mine, and AltaGas will need a line connecting its Forrest Kerr run-of-river hydroelectric project on the Iskut River west of Bob Quinn just to name two projects.
And should all of the liquefied natural gas plants now being talked about ever be built at Kitimat, there’ll be plenty of transmission line work in supplying the amount of power needed to transform gas into a liquid.
Valard has had an office in B.C. for the past two years and Budzinski is clear about the company’s plans for the northwest.
“This is not a temporary office,” said Budzinski of the renovations underway at Lazelle and Sparks.
“It’s going to be a project office [for the transmission line] but it’s also for the long-term. We’re going to be here as long as we can,” he said.
Founded in Alberta in 1978, Valard is now owned by Quanta Services, billed as the largest utility contractor in the world. Valard’s first major construction project was building a Takla Landing to Fort Babine BC Hydro power line in 1984.