First Nation partnership leads to hammers, saws, paintbrushes

Posted by Stephen Watson

BC Hydro is planning and designing several large capital projects within the Campbell River System. These projects include the John Hart Generating Station Replacement Project and the Strathcona Dam Safety Upgrade Project. Smaller but significant projects also include the 2010 Heber Dam Decommissioning Project. 

The challenge with consultations with the four area First Nations is that the two large projects have not been fully proposed - they are still in preliminary design. BC Hydro has consulted on the project needs and issues, but the actual footprint of the projects have not been fully proposed.  Still, while understanding the full social and environmental issues have not been fully scoped out, we do know there will be significant economic benefit through job creation during construction. 

For the John Hart project, the construction period could last about five years, and begin in late 2011 or early 2012. 

Setting up training opportunities

To show BC Hydro's commitment to the First Nations, BC Hydro began early discussions with the First Nations, the North Island College and the BC Construction Association on possible job training partnerships. The standard hurdle is having people trained to do the right jobs when a project is ready to start - and in this case we have time. 

Whether individual First Nations work on the BC Hydro projects is yet unknown, but ultimately the job training and life skills that come out of this partnership is what it's really all about.  So what is the training partnership all about? 

Sixteen First Nation students are enrolled in the Residential Building Maintenance Worker program at North Island College, a course of study that focuses on eight trades – carpentry, electrical, roofing, drywall finishing, floor laying, plumbing, refrigeration mechanics, and painting. They are learning hands on experience. Having already completed two months of the eight month program, the students will graduate in May 2010 and will be qualified for jobs requiring the skills to repair and maintain residential and commercial buildings.

After graduation, an Industry Training Authority certificate of apprenticeship will be awarded to those who complete 4,500 hours of work experience with an employer who is certified to oversee their work. Students can also apply education credits toward further apprenticeship training in a specialized field.

It took a year of planning, meetings with potential students, and suitability assessments to put the program in place, but it was well worth the effort. This multi-party partnership is cutting edge.  BC Hydro is very proud to be involved.

In addition, BC Hydro also contributed to the cost for environmental monitoring and fisheries technician training programs through Vancouver Island University to four area First Nations. Some of the graduates have been assisting Environmental Monitors working on BC Hydro Campbell River projects and studies for the past year.  Lastly, First Nations people were involved with recreation trail surveys.

For the two large capital reinvestments in our heritage hydroelectric assets, since 2007, BC Hydro has been consulting with First Nations and engaging the community. These projects are large in scope, and take time to evolve -BC Hydro wants to get it right financially, socially and environmentally. The purpose of the projects is ongoing public safety and reliability, and there will be environmental benefits.

BC Hydro takes its long term relationship with First Nations very seriously, and is walking the talk.

Here's some background on the two major projects:

John Hart replacement

The aging John Hart facility, in operation since 1947, needs significant capital investment in the powerhouse and penstocks to ensure reliable long-term generation and to mitigate earthquake risk and environmental risk to fish and fish habitat.

We are analyzing options to replace the existing six unit, 126 MW generating station, including an integrated emergency water bypass capability to minimize river flow disruption impacts to fish and fish habitat.

Strathcona safety upgrade project

Strathcona is the upstream dam on the Campbell River and its reservoir provides the primary storage for the Campbell River system.

The Strathcona Dam intake tower, spillway dam and the earth fill dam do not meet current seismic standards, so a seismic upgrade has begun. BC Hydro is contemplating upgrades to the facility to improve public safety, system reliability and minimize environmental impacts.

Stephen Watson is with BC Hydro's Vancouver Island Community Relations group.