The Strathcona Dam (above) and the John Hart Dam further downstream

Hydro announces more dam upgrades worth ‘hundreds of millions of dollars’

Hydro announced this week that two new major projects will begin as the generating station replacement project comes to a close

BC Hydro’s John Hart Generating Station replacement project may be over in four years, but there’s more in store.

Hydro announced this week that two new major projects will begin as the generating station replacement project comes to a close.

Stephen Watson, spokesperson for BC Hydro, said once the $1 billion generating station upgrades are complete, the utility will focus its attention on the John Hart Dam and the Strathcona Dam. Seismic upgrades will be performed first on the John Hart Dam, followed by the Strathcona Dam.

“Starting in 2018/19, BC Hydro plans to undertake major upgrades to the John Hart Dam over three to four years, and mostly focus on the upgrade work to the earthfill sections of the dam,” Watson said. “For the upstream Strathcona Dam, the tallest dam on Vancouver Island, seismic upgrade work there would likely follow the John Hart Dam work.”

Watson said the new projects will be a “major undertaking” and are expected to each cost in the “hundreds of millions of dollars.”

Mayor-elect Andy Adams said the new projects mean BC Hydro will be working in Campbell River for the equivalent of two decades.

“The news of these two major safety upgrade projects will be an ongoing economic boon for jobs and (will) help city council take this community to another level,” Adams said. “These seismic dam safety upgrades, in addition to the current John Hart Generating Station project, equates to Hydro project activity in Campbell River that spans over 20 years.”

Watson said as with the current John Hart Generating Station project, there may be employment opportunities for local workers.

“It makes sense to hire locally and that also applies to suppliers and subcontractors,” he said. “We are still a long ways away from the procurement of these major projects, yet the good groundwork that was paved through the John Hart Generating Station Replacement Project may be applied in a very similar way in Campbell River to showcase the businesses and expertise that exist.”

Colleen Evans, executive director of the Campbell River Chamber of Commerce and incoming city councillor, said the Chamber will work closely with Hydro to maximize employment opportunities.

“To hear that we have two more major BC Hydro projects over the next 20 years on top of the current project is just tremendous news,” Evans said. “We have the means to be positioned really well from our site, to the model we employed with BC Hydro for those early business contractor and subcontractor events. It also provides opportunity and certainty for local businesses that there will be a lot of work happening in Campbell River for a long time.”

While the first of the two projects, that being upgrades to the 800-metre long John Hart Dam, is still at least four years away and in the preliminary stages, First Nation consultations and community engagement on the project have already started. Not to be confused with the John Hart Generating Station project already underway, which will underground the generating station and replace the three penstocks with a single underground tunnel, the John Hart Dam project will take place once the generating station upgrades are complete, which is expected to happen in 2018.

“We couldn’t do the generating station and dam upgrade projects at the same time, as the penstocks draw water near the top of the reservoir,” Watson said. “It would prohibit power generation and domestic water supply to the city for years. They have to be done in sequence.”

The Strathcona Dam project, which will follow the John Hart Dam upgrades, will enter the preliminary stages in roughly one year.

“That project is about a year out from starting the early consultation process,” Watson said. “There will need to be work on the generating station, relocating the water intake control works to the top of the dam, adding a downstream berm to widen and strengthen the dam, and seismically upgrade the spillway gates. But one of the first items we will need to do is construct a large low level outlet tunnel in bedrock, around the dam and deep into the reservoir, to allow us greater ability to draw down the reservoir if needed for emergency measures.”

Watson said the two upcoming projects are about ensuring the dams can withstand a significant earthquake.

“It’s about planning for that worst case scenario of a major earthquake,” said Watson, noting Vancouver Island is the most active seismic area in the province. “The two earthfill dams will sustain damage due to the extreme and lengthy shaking that may occur.”

While the Ladore dam, also a part of the Campbell River system, is founded on rock and is seismically sound, that’s not the case with both the John Hart and Strathcona dams, which is why improvements are necessary.

“BC Hydro plans to make this system much improved through reinvestment,” Watson said.

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