Tunnelling problems delay Hart dam project

The completion of the John Hart Generating Station replacement project near Campbell River could be pushed back three to four months due to tunnelling delays, B.C. Hydro said Monday.

Stephen Watson, a spokesman for the Crown corporation, said the potential setback will have no impact on the public’s electricity needs or the $1.1-billion cost of the five-year project.

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“It’s a very large project,” he said. “Overall, the project’s going well. It’s just this one particular tunnel is causing the contractor to slow down a bit because it’s kind of slow and steady work.”

InPower B.C., owned by SNC-Lavalin Group Inc., was hired by B.C. Hydro in 2014 to build the new station. Construction began that year, with completion slated for 2018-19.

The current station was built in 1947 and B.C. Hydro says the facility and its pipelines may not withstand a low to moderate earthquake. Its generating stations also are in poor condition with declining capacity, the corporation says.

The new facility will have an underground powerhouse, a new water intake at the John Hart Spillway Dam, a new water bypass facility and a 2.1-kilometre power tunnel (8.5 metres in diameter) that will carry water from the dam to the generating station and then another 600 metres to the Campbell River.

Tunnelling difficulties, however, arose in the main access tunnel, where tunnellers hit a 50-metre stretch of loose rock in May, Watson said. The discovery required more exploratory drilling, and then the use of a “steel umbrella” support system once work resumed.

“They’ve been working their way through that,” he said.

“There is the potential that the project could be pushed out about three months, but that’s still to be determined because the contractor’s still trying to deal with this situation and still be on track.”

Watson said the cost of the project to B.C. Hydro will remain the same regardless.

“There’s no change to that,” he said. “And there’s no system issues in terms of B.C. Hydro providing electricity to customers. We have a robust system, so there’s no issue if there is a schedule delay of up to three or four months.”

The John Hart facility currently provides power to 74,000 homes, but that will increase to 80,000 homes once the project is complete.

lkines@timescolonist.com

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