Fibre-optic cable will be installed up the Slocan Valley, starting in spring 2020. File photo

Permitting process delays Slocan fibre-optic line

Work may not be done until summer 2021, more than a year after initial completion date

Fibre optic cable may carry internet signals at the speed of light — but getting that cable installed is a considerably slower process.

With only a few weeks left before the initial projected completion date, permitting delays are pushing the project back a whole year.

“We continue to work hard to acquire the necessary permits and expect construction to begin in the fall/winter of this year,” writes Dave Lampron, chief operating officer for the Columbia Basin Broadband Corporation, the company behind installing the high-speed internet line up the Slocan Valley.

It’s a big difference from the initial — and admittedly ambitious — completion date of March 2020, given when the project was announced in March 2019.

“The province would like to see a March 31, 2020 completion date. It’s an aggressive timeline, but we’re going to do everything we can to meet those timelines,” Lampron said at the news conference announcing the project.

But the paperwork involved in planning the fibre line — which will run over land, under water, and on power lines — has proven complex and intricate.

Awaiting final approvals

While public reviews and consultation have gone reasonably smoothly, getting final approvals from the agencies involved has proven time-consuming.

In a report to council quoting CBBC officials, Nakusp Mayor Tom Zeleznik says in one instance, the corporation received a notice of final review from the province for a licence of occupation months ago. But that doesn’t mean it’s a done deal:

“In order to meet all the final deliverables to receive the final license of occupation, we need to receive approval from the Agricultural Land Commission (ALC has indicated that response expected in early February) and demonstrate that we’ve obtained a Heritage BC site alteration permit (permit application submitted),” it explains. “Timelines associated with receiving both the ALC and site alteration approvals are of course outside of our control. We hope to have all the permit dependencies wrapped up in the spring/summer and have the license of occupation executed.”

Other portions of the route require water permits, or are under review by First Nations or other provincial departments.

Telus delays

One of the biggest sticking points at the moment is the segment from Hills, north of New Denver, to Nakusp, where the idea was to use Telus’ utility polls to carry the fibre.

“The aerial/pole access component is reliant on a request currently in Telus’ queue to determine an estimate for utility pole ‘make-ready’ costs,” says the report to Nakusp council.

“Unfortunately, despite numerous escalations we’ve had no tangible updates from Telus on this application.”

The report indicates the Broadband Corporation is looking for work-arounds should Telus be unwilling to share their poles.

Telus told the Arrow Lakes News they’re aware of the request, but can’t give the approval yet.

“CBBC first approached Telus in the middle of last year to inquire about placing their fibre on the Telus allocated space on the BC Hydro/Telus jointly owned poles,” said Liz Sauvé, a spokesperson for Telus.

“[S]ome of the poles need to be modified to support the weight of the additional cable. Given the time of year, the snow has presented some challenges for Telus and BC Hydro to safely and accurately complete the assessment, and in some areas we need to wait for about four feet of snow to melt before we can accurately assess and reinforce the base of the poles.”

The delay has the broadband corporation considering its options.

“The CBBC team has begun reflecting on a possible Plan B in the event that the Telus application doesn’t come to fruition,” the report says. “Due to the slow process we may not begin the Hills to Nakusp line until middle of summer of 2021, so possibly two years away yet.”

Other portions of the project are moving along, however. The corporation recently issued request for proposalsfor the different segments of the project’s construction — underground, submarine and aerial. Those RFPs close this month.

Depending on how the permitting goes, however, it’s not likely that work will begin until late this year.

“[G]iven weather, environmental and recreation construction windows the most precise we can be at this stage is to provide a range: construction will likely take place between in the fall/winter 2020,” the CBBC report says.

Lampron said in other interviews that once the permitting process is complete, construction of the 125-kilometre, $7.2 million project should be reasonably quick.

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