Construction of the $450 million Upper Lillooet Hydro project is bringing millions of dollars and community support benefits to Pemberton, and the surrounding area, according to Innergex, the independent power producer in charge of the project.
"Apart from promoting local employment and business opportunities we have been sponsoring a large number of local events and initiatives," said Bas Brusche, Innergex's director of western region public affairs.
"Innergex is considering making a robust contribution to the Friendship bridge project and will be continuing discussions on this with the village of Pemberton, (the) SLRD and the Lil'wat Nation next week."
One of the main contractors CRT-EBC, which is a Quebec-based company in charge of the bulk of construction and the work camp, reports it has spent $8 million on goods and services in Pemberton and Mount Currie so far, said Brusche.
Local companies, which are acting as subcontractors, are also benefitting. For example, AC Petroleum is providing fuel and Mountain Glass & Mirror is replacing windshields as needed.
Innergex has not calculated how much it has spent locally, said Brusche.
However, Karen Ross, president of the Pemberton and District Chamber of Commerce, confirmed that the project has added to the local economy.
"Accommodation providers, restaurants and grocery stores have seen a good increase in business since the project started," she said in an email.
"Many of the workers going through town to and from the camp are stopping in Pemberton.
"There are many more examples of local businesses that have increased business."
Once complete, hydroelectric facilities at the Upper Lillooet River and Boulder Creek will divert river, or creek, water through generating equipment inside powerhouses before returning the water to its original source. The electricity generated will flow along a transmission line that will connect the two facilities to BC Hydro's transmission system.
The total combined capacity for the facilities is expected to be 106.7MW.
"So far, we are still on track to finalize the work by 2016," said Brusche.
The clearing and building of temporary roads necessary to lay the power lines, which will connect the generator houses to BC Hydro's grid, is almost complete near the site, which is about 60 kilometres from Pemberton.
"They have already done a lot of work for the Upper Lillooet," said Brusche. "Boulder Creek has started and a lot of that is continuing, and they hope to complete for first testing by December."
Preliminary construction of the powerhouses, which will house the turbines, has also begun.
"On both locations the site has been cleared, the first bases of the powerhouses have been laid," said Brusche.
Intakes, areas where the water goes into a pipe, are also being constructed.
"That is tricky work because you need to work in the river," he added.
Drilling of tunnels at both sites is also ongoing. Tunnels carry diverted water from upper levels to lower levels where it is circulated through the turbines.
"This is the main work that is currently being done. Pouring concrete and making river diversions and drilling a lot of rock to build tunnels," Brusche said.
At Upper Lillooet, as of Oct. 18, 185-metres of tunnel had been built. At Boulder Creek, 396-metres of tunnel is complete.
Construction will continue until the project has to stop due to snow. Brusche estimates a two-month break starting in early December.
Two of the challenges of projects of this scope, he said, are the unpredictability of the weather and unexpected stops over environmental concerns.
"There was a period that we could not construct in certain areas because of mountain goats, or bears — we have to live up to our obligations," said Brusche.
Asked whether concerns raised over the low number of locals hired were valid, Brusche explained that Innergex Renewable Energy contracts out to several companies and that over 50 per cent of all the people working on the project are from B.C. while about 15 per cent of the workforce is from Pemberton or Mount Currie.
"It is not the final number, because when a project starts, the big contractors usually bring in a team from people they have worked with before," Brusche said. "Gradually they build that team up with local employment and that is what is currently happening."
CRT-EBC and Westpark Electric, headquartered in Chilliwack and in charge of power line construction, both subcontract out for such things as fuel and food.
There are also a few other large B.C.-based contractors — one operates the work camp and at least two are environmental consultants.
Contractors CRT-EBC and Westpark held a total of four job fairs to look for local workers and there are plans for future job fairs.
In regards to employees being required to speak French, or jobs being given only to French workers, Brusche said that is "nonsense."
While it may be handy for some employees in very specific jobs — those who converse with upper management based in Quebec, for example — to speak French, Brusche said there is no requirement for employees to do so. He said English is the main language spoken, and on signs at the worksites.
While there are some workers who come from Quebec who can be heard around town speaking French, their first language, that is not the case with the vast majority of employees, Brusche added.
Anyone who feels they were not treated fairly in the hiring process can bring their concerns, and their resumes, to the Innergex office in Pemberton, where the issue will be looked into.
"We want to hear from them," Brusche said.
Based on CRT-EBC and Westpark figures alone, Brusche said 136 person years of employment have taken place on the project so far, with two more years of construction to go.
It is expected, by the end of construction, there will have been approximately 382 person years of employment on the projects.
The two hydroelectric plants involved in the Upper Lillooet Hydro Project will be fully operational sometime in 2017.
For more on the project go to www.upperlillooethydro.com/project/.