Site C has brought the promise of more money and jobs, and local businesses would like a piece of the action.
The Site C business information session saw 52 people attended the meeting, where one of the main topics of discussion was the possibility of employment for locals within the community.
“We’ve got many local people who can do the work but like he was saying, it does cost more the pay our employees because it does cost more to live here and when other people start coming in and outbid us, it just makes it really hard for our local communities to get work,” said Debbie Means.
The Site C project is a hydroelectric dam that is planned to be constructed on the Peace River, southwest of Fort St. John.
First Nations groups, local homeowners and others have protested the project’s impact, since some areas will be flooded if the dam is constructed.
Currently, BC Hydro is working on its environmental impact statement for 2013, which will later be reviewed by the province. This statement will not only address the physical environmental issues associated with the project, but also the socio-economic ones, such as a possible increase in crime or a need for more health care in these regions.
BC Hydro hopes to receive regulatory approval sometime in 2014.
If that approval is received, that could mean eight years worth of work for local contractors, for everything from truck hauling to road construction.
Means was not the only member of the community who wants to know if there is going to be an opportunity for locals to find work.
Pat Pimm, MLA Peace River North, felt that during the informational session the members of the community expressed that their main concern was that B.C. Hydro provide employment opportunities with the Site C project for local people.
“I think the general message in the room was we better have some sort of local hire process for local labor and local contractors and certainly that’s one of the things that I’m promoting,” he explained.
Pimm also said that he felt information sessions likes these are important because community participation is essential.
“Let’s face it, in order for the community to get behind a project like this and support the project they have to know that there’s going to be some benefits in it for our local folks and if there isn’t benefits for the local folks then why would they ever support a project of this magnitude?” said Pimm.
“They know that they’re going to be seven years of employment or maybe more in this project and they want to get their fare share and I think that that’s only right and just.”
Dave Conway, Manager of Community Relations for BC Hydro, agreed that members of the community have a valid concern.
“People and businesses want to know that there’s an opportunity their for local employees, local hires and local businesses to have an opportunity if this project were certified to move forward and I think that’s fair, they want to see that on the local regional basis and I think that’s a fair comment.”
When asked if he felt that Site C would be able to provide employment opportunities, Conway explained that if the project is approved BC Hydro will provide an adequate chance for people within the community to seek and find employment within the project.
“We’re working to ensure that the procurement process and the evaluation criteria allow for local people to be involved and local businesses to have a piece of that economic opportunity that a project like this brings and that they’re not locked out of this.”
He said that approximately 500 workers would be brought in during the first year of the project for construction, which would require the construction of a work camp.
The project's workforce is expected to peak at around the fourth or fifth year of the project, which would bring the total number of workers to 1,200.
This would require another work camp that is expected to house an additional 500 people, with room to expand.
However, Conway also was quick to say that because of the magnitude of this project pulling too many local people to the project would have an economic impact on the community as the region already has a high employment rate. He said that a balance is needed in order to make sure that local businesses don’t lose all their workers, but at the same time, local people still have the opportunity to find employment with the Site C project.
Conway explained that their hiring process will take that balance into account.
“An evaluation criteria isn’t just about price, price is one of the factors but it’s also about things like knowledge of the area, past experience of the area and similar types of work, whether it’s a project that’s large or small and it’s also being able to mobilize that work force.”
With files by William Stodalka