A groundbreaking date for the Ashlu Creek independent power project depends on contractor availability, says the project manager in charge of the controversial project.
Kelly Boychuk, who has worked for four years on planning the run of river power project for Ledcor Group, the engineering company chosen by Squamish Nation to build the $50 million project, is in negotiations with contractor Peter Kiewit Sons to assess their availability for the project that could start this year.
"Once we get a cost update in hand and go through everything again, we could begin to start looking at turning over some dirt," Boychuk said from Ledcor’s Vancouver offices.
The 49 megawatt power project got the green light two weeks ago after the provincial government pushed through Bill 30, a bill that overturned regional districts’ authority over Crown land zoning. Squamish-Lillooet Regional District had turned down zoning for the independent power project 35 kilometres northwest of Squamish because of environmental and socio-economic concerns.
Boychuk, a geological engineer who studied at UBC, says he expects there will be further opposition but his goal is to see the project to completion for the end of 2009. He anticipates the biggest dilemma will be determining if the contractor has enough crews to take on the project.
"Since 2004 Kiewit won the Sea to Sky upgrade and now they’re one of the finalists for the Pitt River bridge upgrade. They’ve got a few irons in the fire," he said.
Squamish Nation has been propelling the Ashlu Creek project since 1994 and although the First Nation’s environmental coordinator discounts opposition to the project as being from those parachuted into the community, Randall Lewis says it’s unfortunate how approval was concluded.
"It’s a positive thing for the collective region but it’s a sad day for municipalities and regional districts that have lost a certain amount of autonomy," he said.
Squamish Nation will take over the power project after 40 years and in the meantime hopes some of the project’s 60 electrical and mechanical jobs will go to its members.
Boychuck said all approvals and assessments are in place for the project that will divert 50 per cent of the river’s water through a 4.5 kilometre tunnel to a powerhouse that will generate enough electricity for 23,000 houses. The electricity will be sold to B.C. Hydro.
An upper holding pond, protective weir preceding the water intake, fish ladder and comprehensive habitat restoration project "will exceed anything that’s going to be potentially affected by the project," Boychuk said. He claims there are no natural, resident fish in the creek.
Ministry of Environment’s Ron Ptolemy disagrees.
"I am more than familiar with the Ashlu and it does have resident fish, primarily rainbow trout," he said.
The fish biologist who has worked on Ashlu Creek says it was stocked with steelhead in the 1980s and their descendents have residualized as rainbow trout, considered to be wild after two generations.
Edith Tobe, of the Squamish River Watershed Society, has reservations about the project’s restoration plan.
"Compensation, to my mind, is a failure. If you’re having to do compensation you’re giving up what is good habitat to begin with," Tobe said. She contends the overarching concern is the proliferation of applications for independent power projects in the Sea to Sky area.
"If you’ve got a water course and you start putting too many of these on them it has to have an impact."