Trent Ernst, Editor
A group of companies, billed as the Peace River Hydro Partners (PRHP), has been awarded the $1.5-Billion contract for building Site C.
While site preparation began in late July under other contracts, this contract is for the actual construction of the dam, a 60-metre high earthfill dam that will span a kilometer of the Peace River, as well as two diversion tunnels and a concrete foundation for the generating station and spillways
This is the largest contract ever awarded by BC Hydro, and was announced on November 25. The Peace River Hydro Partners group is comprised of Acciona Infrastructure Canada Inc., Samsung E&C American Inc., and Petrowest Corporation.
They were one of four groups vying for the job. The other three were Salini-Inpregilo S.p.A, an Italian industrial group, Clengroup Constructors, representing four companies including Astaldi S.P.A., Graham Industrial Services LP, North American Enterprises, Ltd. and EBC Inc, and AFBD JV, a group of four companies Including Dragados Canada Inc., Barnard Construction of Canada Ltd., Flatiron Constructors Canada Ltd. and Aecon Constructors.
The latter was awarded the civil construction for the John Hart Generating Station replacement project near Campbell River in partnership with SNC-Lavalin Constructors Pacific Inc.
More importantly, says David de Sousa, special representative for the International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE), they had an agreement in place with this group to hire locally first.
De Sousa says he’s disappointed with the choice of contractors. “I don’t know a lot about them, so I’m not in the position to criticize, but of the four, only one contractor had an agreement that would have guaranteed that people from the Peace River Region would have been given preferential consideration for hiring and that local people would have been hired first.”
De Sousa says the contractor that was awarded the contract for the North Bank site preparation, Morgan Construction, has not been a model of how this should work. “He brought his employees with him, and local people have been mostly shut out,” says de Sousa. “This is your BC Tax dollars at work. When I speak with the people who work with Morgan construction, I’ve only identified one person from Tumbler Ridge, and one from elsewhere in the Peace. Everyone else comes from outside. They’ve proven to be shameful.”
At the heart of the issue is the fact that, for the first time since the building of the WAC Bennett Dam, the government has moved from a Project Labour Agreement (PLA) to a managed open site.
Under a PLA, the employers would be mandated to put in place a hiring model that favours local workers.
This, says Minister Bill Bennett, could add up to $3 billion to the price tag for Site C, already earmarked at close to $9 billion.
This, says de Sousa, paints BC workers in a very bad light. “When I hear the government that was elected to do our best interest, when I hear Bill Bennett say to employ BCers would be cost prohibitive… unemployed British Columbians would be perfectly thrilled to take these jobs as they are. To suggest the BC workers are too expensive to hire is …”
He trails off. “There’s no shortage of people able to do this work. We represent 400 people who used to work at the Peace River Mine. They’re excluded from this project. Honestly, it takes the wind out of my chest. In time, I hope and pray that I’m proven wrong. I hope this contractor is more socially conscious than Morgan.”
Under the terms of the New West Partnership trade agreement, which came into effect in 2010, any contractor from BC, Alberta and Saskatchewan is allowed to bid on these projects. De Sousa says that’s not the issue. “If you visit the BC Hydro website and look at the documents for the John Hart project, it invites any contractor to bid. However, it also says the successful contractor will hire local. A contractor from Timbuktu can bid, but if he wins, he’s hiring local. Mica, Revelstoke, Bennett, Peace Canyon. The John Hart dam, we’ve built them all under these terms. Morgan should have been invited to bid on the work, but with the caveat that local people be given a chance.
“We have a long history of building dams in BC. Our members are hard at work on the John Hart dam. There they have a Project Labour Agreement to hire locally. If you were to look at the BC Hydro website, it boats 80 percent local hire. Those people are going to take those paycheques and spend that money in the local community. Much of that will remain in Campbell river. Not the same in FSJ. Every two weeks, those paycheques are leaving. They aren’t raising kids here, aren’t shopping here.
“If this was private money, if this was an organization wanting to build something, then they can do as you please, but this is your money and mine. This is BC tax dollars. Of the 30 something dams we’ve built in the last five decade, they’ve all been built under these contracts. Aboriginal people, women, young people…these people get priority. You must have this many women, this many young people learning an apprenticeship. After you’ve exhausted the local market, then you can open it up and find the people. We’ve always managed to supply these jobs, guaranteeing those dollars remain in the local area.”
In a press release, the PRHP say they are committed to providing economic opportunity throughout the project to the residents and businesses of the Peace region, with a particular focus on local jobs training and apprenticeships.
“PRHP expects to have up to 600 people working on construction of the Site C Clean Energy Project (Site C) by May 2016, and up to 1,500 workers at peak construction in mid-2018, in addition to jobs such as component manufacturing, transportation and related services.”
The release says the group’s partners ACCIONA and Petrowest have a proven track record of hiring local workers and contractors during their work on the Fort St. John Hospital project, working with Northern Lights College to set up training programs. They promise to provide training opportunities, including apprenticeships, to local residents in order to build a skilled labour force and long-term capacity for future projects in the region.
Petrowest has strong roots in the region. The company’s CEO, Rick Quigley, was head of Fort St. John-based Quigley Contracting before it was acquired by Petrowest in 2007. Quigley became head of the company in 2010.
In an effort to attract locals, they will post Site C jobs to websites in British Columbia, specifically to the WorkBC Employment Connections site, which focuses on Fort St. John jobs (www.employmentconnections.bc.ca). They also promise to hold local events to meet in person with workers and local and Aboriginal businesses to discuss project opportunities and hold job fairs in conjunction with BC Hydro.
They are working with the Christian Labour Association Canada (CLAC) and the Construction Maintenance and Allied Workers Canada (CMAW). “Consistent with BC Hydro’s managed open site approach, PRHP will be working with other union and non-union groups on Site C opportunities,” says the release.
The final contract is expected to be signed by early 2016, according to BC Hydro. In a press release, they announced the proposal by Peace River Hydro Partners: “is within the budget established by BC Hydro, and is included in the $8.335 billion cost estimate for Site C.”
The project is expected to commence the first week of January 2016.
The job is expected to create close to 8,000 person-years of employment over the term of the eight-year contract. At peak of construction, about 1,500 people will be employed. Jobs on Site C will include: machine operators, tunnelers, carpenters, construction supervisors, surveyors, engineers, electrical and mechanical professionals, labourers and administrators.
However, says de Sousa, they need to prove it. “There’s nothing compelling them to hire,” he says. “I feel badly for the people of Tumbler Ridge. I was just having a chat with Don McPherson. It’s sad. You drive through Tumbler Ridge and every second house has a for sale sign. We have hundreds of talented people in TR alone, let alone the Peace Country. There are a lot of good people, talented people that can do this work. If Petro West choses to do what Morgan did, this is not a happy occasion. These are early days, and we’ll be keeping watch, and nothing would please me more than to be proven wrong.”