Members of BC Hydro’s Campbell River System Hydroelectric Facilities Liaison Committee seen touring the facility’s access tunnel. Neil Cameron photo

Campbell River hydro project workers pitch a perfect safety game

The billion dollar price tag is not the only astonishing number

By Neil Cameron

I’ve been a member of BC Hydro’s Campbell River System Hydroelectric Facilities Liaison Committee for about five years. At numerous meetings I saw a lot of figures.

The $1 billion price tag for the new John Hart powerhouse was one. Then there were other architectural, engineering and structural numbers. None of which I can really say I understood.

But after a tour of the new underground facilities recently, I learned of two almost unbelievable numbers.

The first one was 3,750,000.

That was the person hours it took to build the facility.

The second one was 0.

That was the number of lost time hours due to injury.

Just the time span would lead one to believe that something would eventually happen. But some of the work the project entailed makes those two figures probably the greatest shut out of all time.

They drilled, blasted and removed the equivalent of 120 Olympic-sized pools worth of rock, sometimes inch by inch.

Heavy machinery was buzzing everywhere yet it was like a fine-tuned orchestra in timing. Drilling equipment, dump trucks, excavators, bulldozers, you name it. They came and went, hauling and delivering, digging and clearing. It peaked with 500 people in Campbell River working on the project.

Their working quarters for the most part were the tunnels and caverns they dug.

They maneuvered and installed huge pieces of machinery into the facility. The wiring and cables alone would seem to stretch from here to the moon.

The equivalent of about 19 Olympic-sized swimming pools worth of concrete was placed within the project site.

And then they had to eventually open the water intake gate to the over eight-metre-in-diameter tunnel and let millions of gallons of water rush into the system. Then they had to de-water it for more testing and fine tuning.

The work on the new intake at the John Hart dam was also daunting. I saw the coffer dam and scaffolding perhaps four stories high. They worked on both sides of the dam, with one area holding back the entire lake and the other looking out precipitously down towards the new tunnel shaft that would drop vertically about 65 metres before turning and moving down to the new powerhouse about 1.6 km away.

Then had to remove the old facility and they took down the two huge white surge towers by blasting their bases and then taking apart the thick and sometimes ragged metal for recycling.

“The project was massive and complex, with many moving parts and scheduling,” said BC Hydro’s Stephen Watson. “Within that, the project had an amazing safety culture, and that’s what you need to be successful. Safety was number one. From safety training to the step back cards that identify the risks before entering a work zone, our contractor InPower BC and the entire team, down to each individual, had a role to play. Everyone who worked there needs to share in this most important and tremendous safety record.”

Finally, they tore down the old three-story generating building AFTER taking out the six generators and all the equipment from the inside.

There was more, stuff I never saw and wouldn’t be allowed to see because it was too dangerous for spectators.

In the end we can look at figures like the billion dollar price tag, the millions of dollars generated into the community, number of years of a much safer and secure facility for years to come and the megawatts it produces.

But the 3,750,00 and zero numbers are the most fantastic of them all. Because that meant fathers and mothers, aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters all returned home every night safe and sound.

For a project that you would not be remiss in suggesting could be “a mistake waiting to happen” that is an extraordinary accomplishment. It was not just a shut out, it was a no hitter and a perfect game.

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