After four long years a contracting agreement for the East-West Tie Transmission Project was signed on Tuesday.

The agreement, which has been in the works since 2013, is aimed at bringing a stable source of electricity to the northwestern Ontario region as well as an "upwards of 600 to 1000 job opportunities," according to Fort William First Nation Chief Peter Collins.

On Dec. 12, Valard was named the general contractor for the project with six First Nation communities — Fort William, Red Rock Indian Band, Pays Plat, Biggtgong Nishnaabeg (formerly Pic River), Pic Mobert and Michipicoten —  sharing in the economic success of the long anticipated development.

"Each and every one of our communities will benefit from this," Collins said, "from the training aspect to equipment to clearing to road building...[we want] our young people to take advantage of the opportunities on this east-west tie."

The development will connect the Wawa transformer station to the Lakehead transformer station near Thunder Bay, Ont. by running a 450 kilometre-long transmission line parallel to the current existing double-circuit transmission.

NextBridge Infrastructure open house

NextBridge Infrastructure representatives held a open house in August of 2013 to answer questions from property owners and area residents about its planned East-West Tie Transmission Project. (Nicole Ireland/CBC)

"This one re-enforces the reliability of the line, it's actually a larger line and brings 650 megawatts to the region of electricity reliability," said Jennifer Tidmarsh, the project director of NextBridge Infrastructure — the developer behind the East-West Tie project.

She said with the contracting agreement now signed, the company is waiting for the Ontario Energy Board's approval on their Leave to Construct application which was filed on July of 2017.

Tidmarsh said, pending that application, the company is expecting shovels to hit the ground as soon as November of 2018.

Local job opportunities

The six First Nation communities involved in the East-West tie development have approximately 20 per cent ownership in the $777 million project, Collins said.

Together they have created an economic partnership called Bamkushwada as well as a separate branch known as Supercom to assist in connecting Valard to local contractors and journeymen for training and employment opportunities.

"Within the past two months we've engaged upwards of [400 to 500] people already," said Matthew Dupuis, the director of Supercom and a councillor for Red Rock Indian Band.

"Just under 300 [people] have done their initial intake and now they are starting their testing to see where they lay in their training plan."

He said since the beginning of this project, Supercom's main objective has been to maximize the economic participation of the six First Nation communities involved and make sure the training and necessary skills are in place for residents to be ready when the work starts.

"Fort William has about eight to 10 contractors right now and they are going to have the opportunity to be a part of the work...and our community members will have the opportunity to be fully trained," Collins said.

The in-service date for the East-West Tie Transmission is 2020.

With files from Jackie McKay