Teck owes citizens an explanation

Local 480 shocked to hear of Waneta Dam sale, writes president Armindo deMedeiros

Local 480 Steelworkers president addresses sale of Waneta Dam. Letter to the Editor submissions can be sent to editor@trailtimes.ca.

Local 480 Steelworkers president addresses sale of Waneta Dam. Letter to the Editor submissions can be sent to editor@trailtimes.ca.

To the residents of Greater Trail and surrounding areas, and to the membership of USW, Local 480, as President of Local 480 I feel compelled to speak publicly regarding the sale of the Waneta Dam. We, the executive of Local 480, were just as shocked as the residents of our area to learn of the sale of one of Teck’s prized assets.

Eight months ago at a presentation with Trail’s General Manager Thompson Hickey, the question was put to him whether they would ever sell the dam. His response was that all of Teck’s assets were for sale for the right price, and two months ago we were informed that investors were touring the dam for a possible sale.

This transaction is not something that happened overnight, and for some reason they chose to keep the residents of our area out of the loop, which was the wrong thing to do. After all this community has done to help Teck in the past, in my opinion, this was a slap in the face to all of us the way the news of the sale was delivered. I feel we have been betrayed by Teck’s upper management who don’t give a damn about our great area except when they need our lobbying when times are tough as we have in the past years. We at least should of had the chance to express our opinions.

As a Teck employee for over 35 years, I have attended many management presentations and was always told by the general manager at the time that the only reason Trail Operations is profitable and running was because of the low power rates acquired from the Waneta Dam. Trail Operations has the lowest power costs over 25 other smelters worldwide and that was the biggest advantage over other smelters. In 1982, Cominco stated in an application to the BC Utility Commission that the economic disadvantage of operating their smelter in B.C. was offset by the advantage of low-cost energy supply, that being the Waneta Dam.

What has changed?

Teck is now paying $75 million per year and escalate at 2 per cent per annum for something they already owned, plus another $10-$12 million annually for maintenance costs on top of which they are not saying much about. These costs will now become part of Trail Operations costs, so how profitable will Trail Operations be to Teck? Research tells us Teck did not need to sell the dam for further debt reduction because after a $1 billion repayment earlier this year their debt levels were already within range of management targets. The reality is that Teck could use the cash to bolster their decision to proceed with Phase 2 expansion of its Quelerada Blanca Copper Mine in Chile expanding the mine life for another 25 years. The sale of the dam will leave Teck’s Trail smelter particularly vulnerable to reduced operations, sale or even closure. Any of these events could mean loss of jobs and prosperity in Trail and surrounding areas.

This deal is not good for development of our area. We all need to stand together and get Don Lindsay, Teck president and CEO, to come here and give us an explanation why we weren’t all informed of this sale and for peace of mind give the City of Trail and surrounding areas some assurance that this smelter will be around for another 100 years.

This is our lifeline and we deserve better.

In solidarity

Armindo deMedeiros

President, Local 480