Sunday, July 24, 2011

Northern British Columbia poised for record growth



July 25, 2011

Northern British Columbia poised for record growth

Maybe Cinderella is finally going to the ball as a guest of honour.

"We believe this is the northern decade," said Rosalind Thorn, British Columbia Construction Association-North president in Prince George.

It's a good thought and it's pretty exciting.;

Some compelling evidence is available to support the notion.

There are a number of major construction projects underway, others close to tendering and a raft proceeding through various required pre-construction stages.

It means that billions of dollars worth of construction is planned for the northern half of B.C.

The list is long.

Prince Rupert Port Corp.’s second phase expansion of the container port is anticipating a construction start, while at nearby Ridley Island, the coal export port facility is bursting at the seams, said Thorn.

Rio Tinto Alcan has confirmed a $2.5 billion rebuild of its aluminium smelter in Kitimat that will boost plant capacity to 420,000 tonnes per year. About $300 million will be spent on the project in 2011 and a 400 person camp for construction crews is already on site.

The Kitimat LNG consortium headed by Apache Canada is acquiring the old West Fraser Eurocan Pulp & Paper site for location of its $3 billion liquefied natural gas plant.

Rounding out Kitimat’s trio of mega projects, Enbridge Inc.’s 1,170 kilometre, $5.5 billion Northern Gateway oil pipeline, originating in Alberta, will have Kitimat as its western terminus if it receives permission to proceed.

The $404 million Northwest Transmission Line extension to Bob Quinn Lake on Highway 37 is proceeding. It could become the key to developing the northwest’s mineral potential.

“I believe there are about $6 billion worth of proposed mines ( in the northwest) that are in differing phases of the environmental assessment review process,” said Thorn.

Major run-of-the-river power generation proposals could become more feasible with closer proximity to the provincial power grid.

About $42 million has or is scheduled to be spent in 2011 on the Galore Creek, copper gold project adjacent to the Highway 37 corridor during the preparation of a pre-feasibility study due by the end of the year.

Construction began on the Galore Creek project in 2007, but was halted when cost estimates for the project more than doubled to $5 billion.

Thompson Creek Metals Company near Endako in central B.C. is continuing its upgrade on its molybdenum mine with about $400 million in expenditures.

The company is also the owner of the Mt. Milligan project, about 92 kilometres north of Fort St. James, where construction is gathering momentum on an open pit copper/gold mine with an estimated total cost of $1.3 billion.

Coal is king in B.C.’s eastern Rocky Mountain foothills with three producing mines in the Tumbler Ridge area. The region is under intense scrutiny for underground coal mine development by companies and steel makers in China.

“These and other projects really identify the need for electrical power,” noted Thorn.

The massive multi-billion dollar Site C dam project proposal on the Peace River near Fort St. John is being investigated as a solution.

The regional transportation infrastructure is being upgraded to support these developments.

Highway improvement projects are underway on Highway 97 north through the Pine Pass and south along the Cariboo Connector toward Vancouver. The Boundary Road project is underway to create a proposed logistics park near the Prince George Airport, while the CN container re-load facility in Prince George has reached its capacity in three years. It was expected to take 10 years, Thorn said.

Construction work is continuing on a new hospital in Fort St. John and a cancer clinic in Prince George. Tenders should be sought soon for a new $25 million RCMP headquarters in Prince George.

“We mustn’t forget the greening of the pulp and paper industry and projects there,” said Thorn.

A new wood pellet manufacturing plant near Burns Lake and major upgrade to the Husky Refinery in Prince George are other significant regional projects.

“The industrial sector has been very buoyant,” she said.

Thorn believes she knows why construction is booming in the north.

“It’s because of world commodity markets and our own geographic luck of being strategically well placed,” she said.

The demand for commodities is being driven by Asian markets.

Skilled labour shortages, however, are a concern.

“The pressure is on right now and (especially) in certain trades,” said Thorn. “We need the human resources and we’re gearing up training. We’re also looking outside the province to the U.S. and further afield.”

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