The B.C. government has awarded the contract for the main civil works on the Site C dam, and the winning partnership includes a company with operations in Fort St. John and Charlie Lake.
The province and BC Hydro announced Wednesday they will be signing the deal with Peace River Hydro Partners in early 2016. At an estimated $1.5 billion, its the largest contract ever awarded by the utility on the largest infrastructure project in B.C. history.
The partnership is comprised of Acciona Infrastructure Canada Inc., Samsung E&C American Inc., and Petrowest Corporation.
“We’re going to get great value for this money,” said Hydro CEO Jessica McDonald at the announcement in Burnaby, adding the project will come in “on-time and on-budget.”
Site preparations for the $8.8-billion dam have been ongoing since late July.
The civil works contract involves construction of the earthfill dam, which will be 60 metres high and one-kilometre long, just downstream of the confluence of the Peace and Moberly Rivers. It also involves building a pair of diversion tunnels and the concrete foundation for the generating station. The work involves excavating 32 million cubic metres of earth.
McDonald said Hydro was confident in the partnership’s “skills and experience” to build the project.
Premier Christy Clark and Energy Minister Bill Bennett made the announcement alongside McDonald and Petrowest CEO Rick Quigley.
The Alaska Highway News tuned in to the announcement via a listen-only teleconference. While questions were taken from reporters in the Lower Mainland, reporters from Fort St. John and Dawson Creek were not given an opportunity to ask questions as part of the teleconference.
Site C spokesman Dave Conway, said the full value of the civil works contract will be known when it's officially awarded, but it is expected to be more than $1.5 billion.
PETROWEST PROMISES LOCAL HIRES
Some 600 workers are expected to be working on the dam by May, McDonald said, adding that 1,500 workers are expected on site by mid-2018.
Quigley said the company’s main focus would be hiring local workers, and called the dam good news for Fort St. John, given this year's collapse in oil prices.
"Families in the Peace are counting on the opportunity that will come with the building of this project," Quigley said. “This project is a critical job creator for my community. It’s no secret that the oil and gas has impacted the industry with the downturn in the prices.”
The award of the contract to Petrowest, formed in 2006 in an amalgamation of nine companies including a Fort St. John firm, underscored the government's commitment to hire local workers, Clark said.
Petrowest previously built the Fort St. John hospital along with Acciona, and Quigley lives in Fort St. John. However, its head office is listed in Calgary. In August, it was awarded a $7.3-million subcontract to prep the land for the Site C work camp.
Some labour groups and local businesses have questioned whether or not the people employed on the project were from outside of the province.
Energy Minister Bill Bennett confronted the question of local workers head on, saying Alberta licence plates on vehicles at the construction site were evidence of B.C. workers "coming home."
“Somebody says there’s a lot of Alberta licence plates kicking around” he said. “That’s because B.C. (workers) have come home from Alberta to work on this project.”
Bennett added that anyone from Fort Nelson, Fort St. John, Dawson Creek, Hudson’s Hope, Taylor, Chetwynd, Tumbler Ridge, and others who want to work “will have an opportunity to work on the Site C project.”
LEGAL HURDLES REMAIN
Wednesday’s announcement comes on the heels of NDP leader John Horgan's comments last week that he remains open to cancelling the dam if elected in 2017.
The dam is still subject to numerous provincial and federal court challenges from the West Moberly and Prophet River First Nations over its impact on treaty rights, and the permits issued so far allowing construction to proceed.
The Peace Valley Landowner Association also has an appeal in B.C. Supreme Court over the dam’s environmental certificate.
Association president Ken Boon said no date has been set to hear the appeal, but expects the hearing to happen sometime in spring.
Boon called the "rush to award" major contracts for the dam "irresponsible."
"What they are doing is creating a crisis," Boon told the Alaska Highway News.
"They know all these legal challenges are going on, and that there's a growing call to halt construction and get it reviewed properly.
"They're hell-bent to get this project built as fast and hard as they can so people think it's irreversible," he said.
Boon called the dam a "white elephant" for which the province doesn't have a "social licence" to build, or a demonstrated need for its power.
He added that landowners affected by the dam are not opposed to creating jobs.
"They're doing everything they can to get social licence, and right now… they're trying to garner local support just on the backs of jobs," he said.
"You're announcing a death sentence on a river valley, and all you can talk about is the jobs you're creating. The need has not been demonstrated."
Clark told reporters in the Lower Mainland she was “really confident that BC Hydro has done its homework” on its legal issues.
“There are always going to be legal challenges to any infrastructure project,” she said. “I’m hopeful that courts will find BC Hydro has done its job.”
Another potential roadblock could be the new federal Liberal government, which so far hasn’t said whether it would support or oppose the dam.
As for claims Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is lukewarm on the project, Clark said "I haven't heard that at all,” adding the project did not come up in a recent meeting with the prime minister.
“I would say it’s hard to argue with clean energy that comes from hydro projects,” Clark said.
—with files from Jonny Wakefield