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Northern Transmission Line construction contract goes to two U.S.-owned firms

By Gordon Hamilton, Vancouver Sun, September 2, 2011

BC Hydro has awarded the construction contract for its 344-kilometre Northern Transmission Line [sic - it's actually Northwest Transmission Line]to two U.S.-owned companies, the Crown corporation announced Thursday.

Valard Construction, an Edmonton-based engineering firm owned by U.S. infrastructure specialist Quanta Services, and Burns & McDonnell, an engineering environmental services and construction company, were the successful bidders, Hydro stated in a news release. The total cost of the project is $404 million. The construction contracts, however, are not for that full amount. Hydro's media relations office was unable to provide a cost by press time.

The two engineering companies will be responsible for designing procuring materials and construction of the 287-kilovolt transmission line, which is to run from Skeena Substation, near Terrace, to Bob Quinn Lake, 344 kilometres to the northwest on Highway 37.

The line is being viewed as essential infrastructure for opening up the province's northwest to industrial development.

"The project will provide a secure interconnection point for clean energy generation projects and supply clean electricity to support future industrial development in the area," the Hydro news release stated.

The transmission line is expected to create 840 direct jobs and, according to a report from the Mining Association of B.C., has the potential to attract $15 billion in new investment over the next few decades.

Hydro has signed benefit agreements with six of the nine first nations that have territorial claims along the proposed transmission line but has said previously it does not need to reach agreements with all nine first nations to begin construction. The project is expected to be completed by December 2013.

In its release, Hydro states it has agreed to provide employment to first nations through direct-award contracts for work such as access road construction and right-of-way clearing.

In a related development, the Seton Lake Indian Band near Lillooet accused Hydro of not living up to the terms of an agreement that would compensate band members on whose lands Hydro has previously constructed power lines and transformer stations.

Seton Lake Chief Garry John said in an interview Thursday that Hydro agreed to pay several thousand dollars in compensation to band members who hold certificates of possession on the land Hydro facilities occupy. Hydro stated when the agreement was signed June 15 that it brought operational certainty to Hydro. Under the terms of the agreement, the Crown corporation agreed to pay compensation within 60 days. That period is now up and Hydro has yet to make the payments, which amount to several hundred thousand dollars, John said. "They secured the certainty that they require. I am not sure what their rationale is for delaying the payment," John said. "We have held our end of the bargain up in good faith."

gordonhamilton@vancouversun.com

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