Hydro expects hundreds of jobs during construction

A billion-dollar proposal from BC Hydro to replace the aging John Hart Generating Station could create hundreds of jobs.

STEPHEN WATSON of BC Hydro and Comox Valley MLA Don McRae are pictured by pipelines that will be replaced by a tunnel if the John Hart Replacement Project happens in Campbell River.

STEPHEN WATSON of BC Hydro and Comox Valley MLA Don McRae are pictured by pipelines that will be replaced by a tunnel if the John Hart Replacement Project happens in Campbell River.

A billion-dollar proposal from BC Hydro to replace the aging John Hart Generating Station in Campbell River could potentially create hundreds of jobs during the course of a five-year construction period.

In operation since 1947, the station is one of the oldest generating facilities in the company’s hydroelectric system. One reason for the rebuild is to enhance safety in terms of seismic risk: The company says the pipelines and generating station may not withstand an earthquake, even a low one.

Ensuring long-term power reliability for the next 65 years and mitigating environmental risk to fish are the other factors, as opposed to generating more power.

“However, we do get an added benefit by getting seven per cent more power,” BC Hydro communications officer Stephen Watson said, noting the John Hart has about five times the capacity of the Puntledge River generating station in Courtenay. “It serves about 74,000 homes. This will increase to about 80,000 homes.

“The system, when it was originally constructed, was made very efficiently and it was well-designed. So we’re basically going to keep it the way it was…Instead of going from six (generating) units we’re going to three units, and go to 128 megawatts of capacity.”

The replacement is estimated to cost from $1 billion — $1.2 billion, pending approval from the BC Utilities Commission. Construction includes a replacement water intake at the John Hart Spillway Dam and a new generating station beside the existing facility. A 2.1-kilometre tunnel will replace a trio of 1.8-kilometre pipelines.

Construction could begin by next summer and be completed by late 2018. BC Hydro hopes to have the first replacement generating unit operating by 2017.

The project is expected to create an average of 400 jobs per year, peaking at about 500 in the second year of construction.

Combined with more than $600 million required to construct a new regional hospital, Comox Valley MLA Don McRae notes the potential for nearly $2 billion worth of “major infrastructure investment on the North Island.

“There’s going to be 1,000 people working between these two projects for four to five years. Hopefully we can use it as an opportunity to bring some of our residents home — people who have gone off to Fort McMurray or Peace River to work in the oil and gas industry. Now they can come back and be with their families every night.”

Another feature of the John Hart Replacement Project is a proposed Rotary suspension bridge at Elk Falls. The Canyon View Trail that passes by the station will deviate but continue to maintain its loop during construction. River access will also be improved once construction is complete. The Brewster Lake Road Bridge will be upgraded, and a 75-space parking lot will be added to the area.

First Nations, including the K’ómoks First Nation, and other stakeholders are involved as the project proceeds to the next steps.

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BC Hydro announced Thursday the signing of an impact benefit agreement with the We Wai Kai Nation (Cape Mudge Indian Band) and the Wei Wai Kum Nation (Campbell River Indian Band) for the proposed John Hart Generating Station Replacement Project.

This will provide both First Nations with a number of benefits including training and education funds, economic development opportunities related to the construction of the project and also wider involvement in BC Hydro’s watershed activities, Hydro said in a news release.

The We Wai Kai and Wei Wai Kum will also be more directly involved with BC Hydro in the preservation and enhancement of salmon stocks within the Campbell River system.

reporter@comoxvalleyrecord.com