Construction of two major power lines in northwestern Ontario brings hundreds of new workers to region
Over 1,000 people working on two major projects to power the north
They're bright blue, hard to miss and will be driving around Thunder Bay and northwestern Ontario for the next couple of years.
What seems to be hundreds of bright blue pickup trucks, with Valard written on the side door, have popped up in the city and region over the past few months.
Valard, a construction company based in Calgary, is the contractor for both the East-West Tie Line and Wataynikaneyap Power line.
"These are large jobs, yes. Very large jobs," said Carey Kostyk, a senior executive vice president at Valard.
"Both together, it's over a billion dollars of work. Between all the jobs, those two jobs that we're doing, we have over 1,000 people in the area working."
The East-West Tie Line, a 450-kilometre line stretching from Wawa to Thunder Bay, is a $777 million project.
Kostyk said Valard is using Thunder Bay as a staging location for many of its trucks and crews. The company is using the former Abitibi Lakeshore mill for its equipment in Thunder Bay.
"In Thunder Bay we have our staging office, one of our main offices there now, with those projects going on. That's why you're seeing a lot of vehicles that start there and then go into support both of those projects."
Construction on the East-West Tie Line is slated to be completed by the end of 2021.
Work on the Wataynikaneyap project for Valard includes the line's engineering, procurement and construction.
The work is being done in two phases; one is the construction of a transmission line from Wabigoon to Pickle Lake, and the second phase is lines from Pickle Lake and Red Lake to 17 remote communities, requiring over 1,600 kilometres of line.
"There's over 1,000 kilometres of transmission line, and over 20 substations we'll be building for that project," Kostyk said.
"All of these jobs are in remote areas, so you're in areas that might only be winter access or have no easy roads in."
The scale of the project means 22 temporary work camps will be set up and dismantled. Currently, camps are already constructed near Sioux Lookout, Pickle Lake and north of Pickle Lake.
"If you think of a linear job though, they go over time, and if you can think of a wave starting at a point and going to another point, it's not like all 22 camps are running at the same time."
As an example, it will take 825 towers to string a line from Wabigoon to Pickle Lake. The first tower was erected on the project in July 2020, near Highway 516.
Most First Nations are expected to be hooked up to the provincial grid by 2023. Pikangikum was the first remote community to be connected to the grid in December 2018.
Kostyk said there are more than 1,000 Valard employees now in the northwest, and that figure does not include other contractors.
"Hiring local is a drive that we have, and we're trying to develop. Right now we have over 20 per cent of our workforce is local."