Waneta infrastructure could help lure more economic activity

The Waneta expansion project will have a long-term economic impact on the industrial area outside of Trail now that infrastructure has been laid in the park, according to an organization that provides economic development services for the region.

Land that has been transformed into office space for the contractors involved in building a second powerhouse at the Waneta Dam will help draw interest from future companies, said Sandy Santori, chair of the Lower Columbia Initiatives.

“As a result of the Waneta Dam expansion they are running a fibre-optic line right down from Beaver Creek to the dam site itself,” he explained.

“Where that creates opportunity for the industrial park is with a much less significant investment, it can provide high-speed broadband for the existing businesses down at the industrial park as well as for potential businesses down the road.”

The site that used to be a pasture was developed into a large parking lot and office site that is also supported with telecommunications infrastructure, septic and water services.

“Frankly it has extended the whole industrial area and created a more useable area,” said Audrey Repin, expansion project spokesperson and Columbia Power Corporation director of stakeholder relations and communications.

“But we, as owners, are obligated to return the area back to how it was before when this project is completed, unless, however, that’s something . . . that the community may not want to have returned because it certainly could be useful for an industrial zone in the future.”

Though one of the Lower Columbia Initiatives’ goals is marketing the industrial park, Santori said it’s premature to promote the land while the regional district completes an airport master plan that includes a report on surrounding land that can be potentially developed.

“When (the master plan is) completed, on an economical development perspective, it will illustrate where we can create additional industrial lands down there,” he said. “First of all, we have to create the asset, which is the parcels of industrial park, so if someone is interested in opening up an industry or commercial enterprise, we actually have a place to house them.”

The industrial land already captured the eye of 5N Plus Trail, which was formerly known as Firebird. The company recently left its 14,000-square-foot Glenmerry facility for a new 40,000-square-foot building just past the Trail airport.

The homegrown firm that spun off in the early 1990s from Teck’s research division hit a peak at its former Glenmerry location but when Quebec-based 5N Plus purchased the Trail business two years ago, the vision of Firebird’s future expanded.

5N Plus Trail is one of three companies in the world that grows high-quality indium antimonide crystals that are sold as wafers and further refined into components for highly sensitive heat cameras, infrared windows and infrared missile systems.

Setting up a larger facility in Trail was a no-brainer for the company, which receives critical raw materials from Teck.

“There are some clusters that are starting to develop down there with Firebird, with the recycling of bi-products into high purity metals, so it’s lending itself down there to become clusters to feed off spin-offs from Teck and from existing businesses,” said Santori.

The projected success all stems back to the expansion project, which has been underway for a little over half a year and it’s expected it will take another four years to complete.

It’s estimated that about $10 million per month is spent in the region on wages and materials.

Located immediately downstream from the Waneta Dam and its existing powerhouse, the expansion project will share the existing dam’s hydraulic head and generate power from flow that would otherwise be spilled.

About 150 employees, nearly 90 per cent locally hired, are currently concentrating on civil work. 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.