Watay Power project successfully moving forward, maintaining expected completion by end of 2023
Jesse Bonello - Staff Writer
Representatives from Wataynikaneyap (Watay) Power and Valard Construction LP have informed that the Watay Power Transmission Project, which will connect 17 First Nations communities to the main electricity grid in Ontario for the first time, has been successfully making progress despite COVID-19 and restrictions related to the pandemic.
Watay Power said the project fell under the essential work category outlined by the Government of Ontario, allowing them to proceed with the project. Watay Power said they came up with a plan to protect project workers and partnering communities to ensure health and safety remained a top priority while phasing in project work during the pandemic.
“The project itself did fall under the essential work category that was determined by the Government of Ontario, so construction activities didn’t actually stop. The work has continued, and there’s been extensive work done by our contractor Valard with respect to the latest best practices in the industry when it comes to COVID-19 procedures and the health and safety of the workers. Wataynikaneyap Power has been very focused on this as well. From that perspective, the health and safety of the employees, our partners, contractors, the member First Nations communities, and the overall general public has been the number one priority up to this point. There has been extensive work done up to this point putting the appropriate measures in place,” said Mike Jardine, Chief Operating Officer of Watay Power.
“In terms of actual on the ground activities, the railway clearing activities are progressing. That started early in the New Year. Valard has now moved into doing tower or structure foundations as well. That started in early June. The tower structure assembly yards are currently being developed. The project site and assembly activities are scheduled to commence very soon,” said Jardine.
“When we received the mandate to bring in reliable energy to the north to connect 17 First Nations, one of the things we didn’t have in the plan was COVID-19, so that was a major concern from the First Nations wanting to keep their communities healthy and safe. We came up with a plan that would help address those health and safety concerns, not only for the communities but for everyone that is working for the project, to ensure everyone is safe and sound while trying to maintain the schedule and the work that has been mandated to us to build this line… We will continue to monitor the COVID-19 situation but, at the same time, we’re phasing in the work that is required to be done,” said Margaret Kenequanash, Chief Executive Officer of Watay Power.
“We have regular calls with our leadership to provide them an update of where things are at, given their concerns for health and safety. The other thing we had to do was look at how we can minimize or not have any interactions within the municipalities because a lot of our communities travel through these various municipalities for other services, particularly like Sioux Lookout, Pickle Lake, and even Red Lake,” she added.
Jardine confirmed the project’s deadlines and timelines remain unaffected, maintaining its targeted completion by the end of 2023.
“There’s been quite an adjustment as a result of this pandemic from a health and safety perspective… The project itself initially had a timeline to be completed by the end of 2023, so that’s still the current situation. We’re anticipating being able to complete the full project in that timeline,” he said.
Valard Construction LP, who was awarded the contract to design, procure materials and equipment, and build the 1,800 kilometres of transmission lines in September 2019, said their Sioux Lookout base camp has been open since June 1. The 176-person base camp is expected to be open until next summer.
“In the Sioux Lookout area, we did start work on this camp back in February of this year, and we moved forward with a ceremony held at the site on May 7 with participation from an elder from Lac Seul First Nation, along with town staff and ourselves to open the camp. The camp was officially open for occupation by people on the project to stay there on June 1,” said Brian Gaunt, Project Director with Valard.
“Right now we’re anticipating that we’ll have the camp open into spring or summer of 2021. There’s a few factors there regarding the status of the project at that time in terms of the progress on the line and whether we’ll still need accommodations in Sioux Lookout, but right now we’re targeting around the spring or summer of 2021 to shut the camp down,” he said.
Gaunt said Valard worked with Watay Power to develop safety procedures to ensure those working on the project remain on the base camp and limit interaction with the community.
“We did work hand-in-hand with Watay Power to develop protocols for the operation of a camp in the area, and a tie-in with the health and safety of not only the workers on the project but also the community as a whole. We have implemented some protocols there to allow for the team, and all the members on the project, to stay in the camp and limit that interaction with the community. Those measures, protocols, and procedures have been put in to place to help facilitate the health and safety there,” said Gaunt.
“The camp itself contains individual rooms for each of the workers, there’s shared washrooms for them on-site… There’s recreation space, whether that’s a couch and TV set up or the gym on-site too. There’s a kitchen and dining area for food services for all the workers to have breakfast, lunch, and dinner provided to them during their stay. It’s essentially a completely self-contained unit there for workers to be on-site and work in the area.
“Out of the Sioux Lookout camp, the types of work out of there will be everything required to bring the line from clearing the trees on the line all the way through to stringing the wire, the conductor, up on the towers. That includes putting foundations into the ground, assembling the towers, erecting the towers on the foundations, and ultimately stringing the wire, so that’s the transmission line side of things. We’ll also be supporting the installation of a substation down towards Wabigoon Lake Ojibway Nations area, towards Dryden. The substation out there will be supported from the Sioux Lookout camp too,” Gaunt explained.
In a news release from Oct. 2019, Watay Power describes the Transmission Project, “To connect remote First Nations communities to the electrical grid, Wataynikaneyap Power will develop, manage construction, and operate approximately 1,800 kilometres of transmission lines in northwestern Ontario. The project will reinforce the existing transmission grid to Pickle Lake and will expand grid service north of Pickle Lake and Red Lake.”
“This Project will supply clean, reliable energy to thousands of residents across the region and will eliminate the financially unsustainable and environmentally risky reliance on costly diesel generation. It will also create an estimated 769 jobs during construction, close to $900 million in socio-economic value, along with many other new economic opportunities,” the news release explained.