Hiring locally for hydroelectric projects in the region has created a pool of skilled workers to pull from for the $900 million Waneta expansion project and has been an economic driver, according to a representative from the Allied Hydro Council.
“There’s a lot of really skilled people on building dams in this area and the advantage is, because of the agreement to hire local people first, there’s a cluster of dams that are right around here,” said Bob McKnight, who represents the council that coordinates and is responsible for varied activities that involve affiliates in B.C. hydro projects.
About 150 employees, nearly 90 per cent locally hired, are currently concentrating on civil work at the site on the Pend d’Oreille River. The berm, a structure that will isolate the powerhouse, has been completed and focus has now shifted to the adit, a tunnel that will access the powerhouse.
The expansion project that started up in the fall is expected to take another four years to complete. There has been close to 150,000 man-hours of work so far, along with over 100,000 trips to and from the site by hauling trucks.
Located immediately downstream from the Waneta Dam and its existing powerhouse, the project will share the existing dam’s hydraulic head and generate power from flow that would otherwise be spilled.
The joint investment of Columbia Basin Trust, Fortis Inc. and the Columbia Power Corporation is projected to inject $178 million into the local economy through the purchase of goods and services, and supply 400 jobs and $200 million in wages and benefits.
This is the third project – Arrow Lakes Generating Station and the Brilliant Expansion – that Columbia Power Corporation and the Columbia Basin Trust have been involved in.
“I would say the last 12 years, with a litte bit of up and down, has been fantastic for the folks that live in the area,” said Chuck Chatten, area representative for Local 1611 (labourers union).
“And hopefully there will be more projects done under the (Columbia Power Corporation/Columbia Basin Trust) arrangment, whether there are private sectors like Fortis involved or not.
“These projects have been a blessing in that it’s more of a community project then it you were working in an area that you’re not familiar with.”
The community-feel starts at the top, with representatives who’ve worked together over the years on projects within the area.
“After all these years of working together – 16 plus years – here we are today, we got representation right around the circle and we consider ourselves like a family,” said expansion project spokesperson Audrey Repin, sitting next to long-time friends, including Wally Penner, regional project manager for contractor SNC Lavalin.
“When we first started working on these projects years ago, the purpose wasn’t just to build a project and get her done, it was an opportuniy to bring back the downstream benefits to the region that actually suffered as a result of construction of a dam,” she said. “So what people did was they turned it around, they worked on these projects and they brought the benefits back.”