There’s been no shortage of construction around Campbell River over the last decade, and no company has invested more here than BC Hydro.
When it’s all complete by about 2030, $2.7 billion will have been spent.
It’s one of the most impressive BC Hydro projects, and it isn’t even visible to most people.
That’s because the $1 billion John Hart Generating Station Replacement Project is up to 100 metres underground just west of Campbell River.
“Project construction started in 2014. It lasted about four or five years, and it was a big success. It met the three project drivers of reliability, safety from an earthquake and protecting downstream fish habitat with constant river flows,” BC Hydro spokesperson Stephen Watson told CHEK News.
Employment peaked at 500 people in 2017.
The new facility replaced one built in the 1940s that was less efficient and susceptible to serious damage in a major earthquake.
“It was a massive project as well. It was basically all underground. It’s in bedrock so seismically strong, tunnels that run 1.6 kilometres from the dam down to the powerhouse, then about another 500-600 metres down to the river. The powerhouse here is 10 stories high, as long as a football field,” explained Watson.
There are surprisingly few people working on-site for such a large facility, but over one hundred people work for BC Hydro in Campbell River.
“Campbell River is one of the bigger locations in B.C., actually. We’ve got 85 employees here, and so the crew on my team looks after four different generating stations and John Hart being one of them,” said Spencer Hamilton, North Island Electric manager for BC Hydro.
Another 40 people work in distribution looking after all the power lines.
The second project now well underway is the John Hart Dam seismic upgrade. The dam, also built in the 1940s, is getting a major facelift, improving downstream safety.
“Basically, it’s making this dam wider and more robust to withstand a major earthquake, so this includes removing loose material on the upstream side of the dam called dredgeate material, widen the dam so it can withstand that shaking,” Watson said.
“We’ll also be replacing the spillway gates, the hoist system, anchoring the concrete dam to the bedrock below and a bunch of other improvement works.”
The work will continue until about 2030 and includes work on two more facilities farther up the Campbell River system.
“The Ladore Dam is mostly about the spillway gates,” added Watson.
“It’s a concrete dam founded on bedrock so this is about replacing the hoist system, the spillway gates and backup power supply so it can safely pass water after a major earthquake and then upstream at the Strathcona Dam, the largest dam on Vancouver Island we’re constructing a deep low-level outlet on the right bank of the dam that will allow us to move water after a major earthquake to lower the reservoir level.”
Downstream fish habitat will improve, and the entire investment in the three dams could reach $1.7 billion.