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BC Hydro launches major seismic upgrade for John Hart Dam

BC Hydro CEO visits Campbell River’s John Hart Dam ahead of seismic upgrade project
BC Hydro Construction Manager Bill Wright, MLA Michele Babchuck, BC Hydro CEO Chris O’Riley, and BC Hydro Stakeholder Engagement Advisor Stephen Watson gather at John Hart Dam in Campbell River on Dec. 17. Ronan O’Doherty/ Campbell River Mirror

BC Hydro CEO Chris O’Riley, and North Island MLA Michele Babchuk gathered together on a cold December afternoon to announce the next steps in upgrading Campbell River’s John Hart Dam.

The sky was gray as the two began to explain what lay ahead for the large construction project, and what it meant for both BC Hydro and the region, and before they had finished big heavy snow flakes began to fall.

The dam as it stands is more than a match for all the snow mother nature can dump on it, but engineers want to ensure it can withstand the strong shaking a powerful earthquake would produce.

O’Riley noted the Campbell River hydroelectric system – which consists of three dams, and three generating stations – is within the most seismically active zone in British Columbia, and was built during the 1940s and 50s.

“There have been a number of upgrades and projects over the years to maintain reliability and safety of the facilities,” he said. “And this project, the seismic upgrade of the dam, represents an important public safety project that will improve the dams ability to withstand a very serious earthquake.”

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After a seven years of consultations with local First Nations and the Campbell River Community, O’Riley was pleased to announce BC Hydro had posted the first request for proposal on BC Bid for the civil contract on the project.

He also said the company will be filing an application for approval with the BC Utilities Commission this week (Dec. 20-24).

Both are big first steps in what’s sure to be a giant undertaking.

The seismic upgrade is set to cost between $496 million and $822 million.

“This is a huge investment in our community,” Babchuk said.

“The economics of this project will be good for hundreds of jobs created.” She said estimates show there will be about 100 workers on site every year over the course of the project.

While the dollars and cents mean a lot to the area, the safety of the community downstream is paramount.

“It’s a huge benefit,” Babchuk said. “Public safety and that peace of mind is so important.”

While construction is taking place, the MLA noted there are many things BC Hydro is accounting for like protecting domestic drinking water, and fish habitat, as well as flood risk management, and the interim risks of earthquake mitigation.

Construction is expected to begin in 2023, and will continue until 2029.

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