The Waneta expansion now

Kootenay Business brings our readers an update on the Waneta Dam expansion, a major project taking place in our backyard

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2014 will mark the final full year of construction for the Waneta expansion project, located  south of Trail, B.C., on the Pend d’Oreille River. With expected completion in the spring of 2015, the project has achieved the golden standard of being on budget and on schedule to date. The expansion is being built downstream from the existing Waneta Dam. With a capacity of 335 megawatts, it will utilize water flow that would otherwise be spilled. The project is owned by Fortis Inc., Columbia Power and Columbia Basin Trust.

Construction in progress

Despite challenges with winter weather, construction has been moving right along. Much of the civil work is completed and there is now a lot of focus on the mechanical component.

“The powerhouse is basically closed in; the roof is on,” said Wally Penner, regional project manager for contractor SNC-Lavalin. “We’ve installed the two transformers since last summer. We’re installing the switch gear and mechanical works is ongoing . . . We’re also finishing the administration portion of the powerhouse. Installation of the runner and completion of the generators is a priority.”

The tailrace, the area where water exits the powerhouse, is being blasted and has to be lowered in the river. Penner is hopeful that by spring the gates will be operational and they will be able to blast out the lower plug—the barrier between the river and the powerhouse—which will be a significant milestone. There is also some civil work being done in order to complete the water intake area and complete the transition from the tunnel to the scroll case.

“We (also) have ongoing work on the transmission line,” said Audrey Repin, spokesperson for the project and the director of stakeholder relations for Columbia Power. “In conjunction with the building and all the work on the powerhouse, you have to make sure your line is ready to go . . . We’ve been busy excavating, putting the poles up, stringing the line. Our goal is (to have most of it completed) in the first half of 2014.”

A conscientious project

Employment on the Waneta expansion peaked in 2013 with almost 400 employees and over 20 contractors on site. There are currently 335 workers with an average of 70 per cent local hire. With over two million man hours on the job there have been only two minor lost-time accidents. The exceptional safety record is no fluke, however. Every employee receives a safety orientation before starting work and each job is assessed before it is started. There is also a planning meeting each morning. Repin said that both the contractor and owner group have the best interests of their employees at heart. The result is an effective and positive project.

Environmental stewardship has also been a big part of the project. As with safety, each employee is orientated and each task has an overall environmental work plan.

“When projects like this would have been developed in the 1940s, '50s or '60s, environmental consciousness and sensitivity may not have been at the level where it is today,” said Repin. “Today, to build any project like this takes so much front-end work in respect to environmental responsibility, making sure that you’re accountable . . . Everything is top priority.”

A showcase to be proud of

These initiatives, along with an absolute dedication to quality, has meant a successful project to date and no reason to believe that will change. Milestones have been reached, with others approaching quickly. A commitment for work at the Fort Shepherd Bar Fish Habitat Enhancement Project has been completed and, on site, the tower crane is about to be disassembled, since only the 440-ton permanent internal crane will be needed to complete the powerhouse.

“The owner group is very proud of this,” said Repin. “It’s a marvel to see a project like this being built with such high respect to environment, safety and all of that, so it’s something that we’re very proud to be associated with and proud to be working on.”

“We’re looking forward to completing a project that’s going to be a showcase for the area for many years to come,” added Penner, “and we’re well on our way to doing that.”

Kristen Mitchell

Kristen studied at College of the Rockies in Cranbrook and has worked in a variety of industries, from agriculture to construction, retail to restaurants. She now brings her understanding of the area to Kootenay Business magazine. View all of Kristen Mitchell’s articles

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