Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Electrifying the audience and surprising the residents

As we outlined last Tuesday on the blog, Premier Campbell's announcement last week that the electrification plans for Highway 37 North corridor are back on, is still resonating across the northwest.

The Premier first provided a snapshot of his hopes on a Prince George radio and Internet talk show and followed up later in the week with participants at the UBCM gathering in Penticton.

A mega project that will provide some incentive for mining interests in the Northwest, the move to go forward could provide up to 11,000 jobs, see some 15 billion dollars invested in the Northwest and bring in around 300 million dollars annually in tax revenues, according to a report put together on the impact of the development.

The first step is the initial investment of 10 million dollars for an environmental assessment on the plans, with perhaps the construction phase underway in time for next years provincial election.

The Daily News provided a front page headline story in Monday's paper, providing some background on Campbell's surprise announcement of last week.

Province says it will go forward with plan to run power lines along Highway 37
By George T. Baker
The Daily News
Monday, September 29, 2008
Pages one and three

The Northwest Transmission Line was jolted back into the land of the living on Friday.
Premier Gordon Campbell announced that the proposed Northwest Transmission Line will move forward after all, and said that the proposed line, which would run alongside Highway 37, would receive a $10 million environmental assessment immediately.

"The electrification of Highway 37 is an important part of the ongoing economic diversification of rural B.C.," said Campbell.

Campbell made the announcement at the annual Union of British Columbia Municipalities, where local political leaders had gathered to discuss municipal issues.

Potentially, this could be a boon to mining industry in B.C. because many possible projects around the area would not have gone ahead without the transmission line, according to the Mining Association of B.C. (MABC)

"It helps our industry to do its work to allow projects to proceed. It provides them with more certainty," said Pierre Gratton of the MABC.

"One does not want to prejudge the outcome of an environmental assessment and consultation with First Nations is critical in all of this. The Tahltan, for example, have serious concerns. They are supportive in principal but they have not made their mind up by any stretch," added Gratton.

According to the report released by the MABC, the line could provide up to 11,000 jobs, potentially $15 billion in Northwest investment and generate $300 million in annual tax revenue.

Minister of Energy, Mines and Resource Richard Neufeld said that the MABC report was the key in returning the project to the forefront.

"The reports were talking about some pretty big opportunities so we said let's get on with it and get it done and see what happens," said Neufeld of the push for an environmental assessment.
The transmission line would snake its way up through Nisga'a and Tahltan territory and would extend the North American power grid in northwestern BC to the "Golden Triangle", north of Meziadin Junction along Highway 37, through Iskut to Dease Lake, a total distance of about 350 km.

"It's good news,' said Bill Adsit, head of the Tahltan Development Corp. "For people who are looking for jobs, yes, it's good - you can't ask for better news."

The provincial government originally stepped away from the project in November when NovaGold and Teck Cominco suspended the Galore Creek project. The mining companies claimed rising labour and materials costs and expenses related to a tailings pond drove the projected cost up from $2 billion to as much as $5 billion. To date the two companies have spent approximately $660 million on access roads and infrastructure.

Adsit thinks the reason the B.C. government has returned to the project is because interested stakeholders were able to push the government back to the table by insisting the province push forward with an environmental assessment.

"Anything to stimulate jobs in the north and economic development in the north, especially for First Nations then that is welcome," said North Coast MLA Gary Coons.

Initially the NDP have backed the project but Coons said that there are still issues that must be resolved over voltage size and First Nations consultation.

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