BC Hydro has begun the process to start building temporary work camps for Site C, even though the project has yet to be approved.
On Tuesday, the provincial energy company put out a request for qualifications for the construction of two temporary work camps located southwest of Fort St. John. This standard process is designed to gather companies interested and able to build this housing for workers on the Site C dam project.
It would consist of two locations, one on the north bank of the Peace River, and another on the south. The two camps would hold 1,700 workers, according to Hydro.
"The camps would be self-sufficient and designed to accommodate the fluctuating number of workers at the dam site in order to minimize the impact on nearby communities," a release on Site C's website states. "The quality of the worker accommodation is a key component of the project's labour approach to attract and retain workers in what is expected to be a period of high demand for skilled workers."
When asked, Dave Conway, a spokesman for Site C, wrote in an e-mail that "initiating procurements prior to regulatory or other required approvals is common practice for major capital projects in B.C. ... with the lead time required for the procurement of major contracts, and to maintain the Site C project schedule, the process is commencing now to select a proponent."
He stressed that construction would not begin unless the project is approved. When asked if this money could have been spent elsewhere for BC Hydro, Conway said "the funds for this are existing budgets for the planning and development of the Site C project."
Potential applicants will have to demonstrate that they have a service record for projects of similar size and scope, and that they have financial resources necessary to deliver.
Once these project companies pass the RFQ, then they have to go to a request for proposals, in which they will more formally propose what kind of temporary work camps they want to build. Those that make it to this stage, submit a proposal, and are not selected will still be paid $200,000 for their efforts.
"The partial compensation is only a fraction of the investment a company would need to spend to pursue a contract of this type," Conway said. "Offering partial compensation to unsuccessful bidders is common practice in procurements. A procurement of this type requires significant resources, and partial compensation encourages participation and robust competition."
The company that does this project must "make commercially-reasonable efforts to make available a specified dollar value of contracts to First Nation companies associated with specific First Nations."
When asked about which First Nations would be specified and for how much, Conway said those requirements would be outlined in the request for proposal stage.
In its request for qualifications, BC Hydro asks that the project would have the company decommission and remove "all temporary structures" and reclaim the work site.
However, Hydro "intends that the successful contractor would commit to purchase the temporary assets at the end of the worker accommodation contract based on a price to be proposed during the competitive selection process," according to Conway.
These submissions are due by April 30. The actual request for proposals would be sent out in June, according to BC Hydro's timeline, and the company would be selected by next January.
The multibillion-dollar hydroelectric dam, the third such project on the Peace River, is still awaiting both Federal and provincial approval. A Joint Review Panel that analyzed the project has until late April to deliver its recommendations.
Local schoolteacher Rick Koechl, who has vocally criticized the expenditures of Site C in the past, said he believes that BC Hydro was "jumping the gun" by issuing this request for qualifications.
"If they're trying to secure their position, money should not be spent in any capacity that's going to ultimately be potentially lost or potentially become a liability," he said. "We don't know what the Joint Review Panel's decision could be, it could go either way ... it's not an acceptable of way of doing business when you're spending taxpayer money."
Koechl also questioned paying $200,000 to people who simply go through the competitive selection process, even if their proposal doesn't make it through.
"If you look at the oil patch, like an engineering firm putting in a bid for company A, to my knowledge they are never reimbursed for the cost (of an unsuccessful proposal)," he said. "To pay those people who are unsuccessful? Holy crap.
"Unless they know something we don't know (about the approval), and I honestly believe they don't, what gives them the authority to spend this money?"