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Riverites lining up to rent out homes to John Hart workers

Over the past three months Campbell Riverites have been chomping at the bit to offer their homes to construction workers expected to descend on the city once work on the John Hart Generating Station gets underway.

Stephen Watson, spokesperson for BC Hydro, says the power corporation has been fielding calls from home owners interested in renting out their homes.

“Since the Mirror’s coverage in late August of city council’s interest in secondary suites in residential areas and the mayor’s comments on the upcoming construction workers at John Hart, I have probably received about 30 enquiries from people offering furnished homes to B & Bs,” Watson said. “Interest in the project has certainly heightened this year and that has extended to people wanting to rent homes to some of the construction workers starting next summer.”

Hydro’s replacement of the John Hart Generating Station, estimated to cost between $1-$1.2 billion, is still awaiting approval from the BC Utilities Commission (a verdict is expected in February 2013) but if it is approved hundreds of out of town workers will need a place to stay.

“The preliminary estimate is the project will require an average of about 400 jobs per year,” Watson said. “Year two will likely see a peak of nearly 500 jobs. We have been working very closely with local and regional business leaders so people are prepared and there should be a good number of local and regional contractors.”

Accommodations are needed anywhere from five years to a few weeks, depending on the worker’s role within the project.

Watson said some may want to simply rent out a hotel room while others may be looking to rent a house.

The project involves replacing the existing 65-year-old generating station to meet seismic standards as well as removing the wood stave pipelines that run from John Hart Lake to the generating station with a two-kilometre long tunnel.

If the project is approved, construction could begin next summer and is expected to last until 2018.

Three companies (Elk Falls Energy Partners, Salmon River Hydro Partners and SNC-Lavalin Inc.) have already been shortlisted to design and build the new generating station and the winner will be announced in the summer of 2013.

Shortly after that, Watson said a business open house will be held in Campbell River for people to showcase their services – including those who are interested in renting out their homes.

“The set up of the event is still being determined,” Watson said. “The venue will likely have different sections for trades, equipment, supplies, services, accommodation, and so on. People can then meet the contractor one-on-one and leave an electronic overview package.”

Similarly, BC Hydro held a business open house on July 25 which provided 130 different companies the opportunity to meet the three shortlisted construction teams one year in advance of the project. Watson likened the open house to a speed dating exercise, noting the event was the first of its kind.

“It’s all about being prepared for a major project like John Hart,” Watson said. “The more versatility a community can provide, the better prepared it will be.”

City council has already discussed how it can help when it comes to accommodations.

Mayor Walter Jakeway said at a council meeting Aug. 14 that he would like to see workers put up in local homes.

“There’s going to be lots of people coming here,” he said.

“A great way to spread some income around town (would be) to get staff to look at accommodation in suites in homes.”

In October, the city’s senior planner also recommended council take a look at secondary suites.

“Secondary suites are a viable approach to diversifying rental stock, providing increased affordable housing options and providing a mortgage helper for homeowners,” he said.

There are currently at least 600 secondary suites in the city, but it’s not known how many of those are legal.

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