Although the Waneta Dam expansion project numbers range in the hundreds of millions of dollars and sports a policy of hiring local, the project isn’t the big employment boost the city that hosts it might expect.
The statistical numbers on the Waneta Dam expansion—projected to cost $900 million—show that around five per cent of the employees on the project are mined from the Silver City, according to the latest Waneta Socio-Economic Monitoring Program report.
Assembled for the project’s socio-economic monitoring committee, the report found that Trail lingered far behind the other two West Kootenay cities in the number of days local people were employed on the project—with Castlegar far ahead at 21 per cent of the employment, and Nelson with 11 per cent.
The project’s hire local policy—setting a goal of 75 per cent employment within a 100-kilometre radius—has come under some scrutiny by several committee members because of the disparity, including the mayor of Trail.
Dieter Bogs has related in committee meetings there is some concern in the community over the statistics and that Trail seems to be on the short end of the spectrum, said the committee’s socio-economic monitor, Cathy Scott May.
But she cautioned in trying to read too much into the statistics for Trail, saying it showed a different picture of the regional economy than was first apparent.
“This is actually a good news story (for Trail) because it means the tradespeople are employed elsewhere, and in longer term projects.”
Using information based on the first three digits of postal codes, Scott May compiled hours worked and wages earned to give a break down of three West Kootenay cities within the hire local radius. Outside of the three centres, however, the rest of the West Kootenay possesses the same postal code, and made up the largest proportion of the workforce at 39 per cent.
Although precedence had been set by previous hydroelectric projects in the Arrow Lakes and Brilliant near Castlegar—accounting for the large sector of Castlegar-based employees—there was reason for optimism in Trail, Scott May said.
“In having this discussion, it has been clear to us that there are a lot of trades people living in Trail, but they tend to work for Teck (Trail Operations).” she said. “Giving up a longer term job for the opportunity to work on a project which is significant, but is only 4.5 years in duration, doesn’t make sense.”
In talking with the managers of the Waneta project, Scott May said they do tend to take people on from Trail, train them up in terms of their safety standards, but then find that they move back to another job in the community, or get a job at Teck which is a longer term opportunity.
She said the real question in Trail is not how many locals are employed for the project, but is Trail’s unemployment rate any higher for construction workers than anywhere else.
“The thing we have to be concerned about is are we seeing and hearing of significant unemployment (in Trail),” she said. “And I don’t think we are finding that.”
A new issue on the job site has contributed to the local hire percentage dropping from a high of 80 per cent in July to 73 per cent in September, said Scott May.
The contractor did warn the committee it was getting increasingly harder to get the type of carpenters they were looking for, specifically because there are a fair number of large scale projects going on right now, she said.
“So they have to compete for those workers and we are also experiencing, as predicted, some retirements in these trades,” Scott May noted.
The project did meet its requirement for equity employment, however, with 10 per cent of the workers identifying themselves as a visible minority (three per cent), of having a disability (one per cent) and female (six per cent). It also met its target of five per cent of workers of First Nations origin.
Other Columbia Basin residents made up seven per cent of the workforce in the third quarter—covering the period of July 1 to Sept. 30—while other B.C. workers held a 17 per cent share.
Facts and figures
The greatest percentage of occupations consistently employed on the project was carpenters (29 per cent) and labourers (29 per cent), followed by iron workers (nine per cent) and operators (nine per cent).
Boilermakers (seven per cent), office and technical workers (seven per cent) rounded out the top six occupations, with the remaining occupations comprising less than five per cent of the workforce.
The total number of apprentices on site varied in the third quarter from 19 to 20, with the majority of them being carpenters.
Trail also lagged behind in employment income.
The city’s workers brought home $274,113.27 (five per cent) of the total wages earned for the third quarter, behind Castlegar at $1.14 million (21 per cent) and Nelson at $580,171 (10 per cent). Rural West Kootenay residents earned $2.19 million (39 per cent).
“This is a very significant project, but relative to the overall workforce and the wages earned in this region it is actually very small. And that’s compared to the above board economy, and we have a very strong underground economy,” Scott May said.
Local project expenditures
The Waneta project has injected well over $100 million into the local economy, such as on sub-contractor goods and services.
“And that represents anything that isn’t wages that are coming through the Columbia/Hydro agreement, including sub contractors’ purchasing of materials, but also sub contractors which are people working on the project but not as a union tradesperson, but contributing some kind of service as a contractor,” said Scott May.
Fortis BC has begun work on the transmission line for the project. The route for the new line will proceed from the new powerhouse up the Seven Mile Road where it will then run parallel to the existing BC Hydro right of way. BC Hydro is designing the new transmission line.
The area has been flown and surveyed. In the summer a crew flagged the area to be cleared. The intent in that area is to keep as much vegetation as possible. The work will be monitored to identify and address any environment impacts. Fortis BC applied for a leave to commence work Sept. 1, beginning construction of roads and preparatory work last fall with logging and clearing this winter. Agreements have been reached with all private property owners.