FortisBC held a ground breaking ceremony on the site of its future Kootenay Operation Centre on Thursday.
Local community leaders joined FortisBC representatives in breaking out some shovels, and offered words of support for the new centre. Delegates included representatives from three local First Nations, all of whom spoke favourably about the experience of consulting with FortisBC on the project.
“It is an important and historical time for First Nations and corporations, one were we all must move together toward … reconciliation. This will require we learn to understand each other better through each others point of view and experiences,” Chief Keith Crow of the Lower Similkameen Indian Band read on behalf of Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, chairman and spokesperson of the Okanagan Nation Alliance. “For many years the Crown and third party interests were busy finding ways to deny and confuse our title and rights, but those days are behind us, and I am pleased that FortisBC has taken important bold steps to recognize our communities and the importance of our voices on land and in future decision making.”
Daniel Joe, councillor for the Splatsin First Nation, and Jared Basil, councillor for the Lower Kootenay Band, were also among the delegates.
FortisBC not only consulted with First Nations when planning to build the Kootenay Operations Centre in Ootischenia, but also with community members. As a result of the consultation, the centre is designed to above-code energy standards to reduce energy use and long-term environmental impact. FortisBC is also putting in a landscaped pathway on the east side of the site to allow locals safe access along Columbia Rd. and Ootischenia Rd.
“One of the concerns from the community — there are about 40 residential neighbours — was just safe access, so that’s why we built in that pathway and I think it does help enhance the area as well,” said Nicole Bogdanovic, corporate communications advisor for FortisBC.
The landscaping will include a number of trees and shrubs, including trembling aspen and skyrocket juniper.
The centre is being built on a 10-acre lot and will be 30,000 sq. ft. — 23,000 sq. ft. of office space and 7,000 sq. ft. of warehouse space — and will also include an Emergency Operations Centre. The facility will replace aging buildings and will also allow FortisBC to centralize some key operations by moving approximately 100 existing employees — power line technicians, substation electricians, engineers, designers and other administration staff and field crews that work with transmission and distribution services — into the same building.
Though the facility will not create new long-term jobs, Mayor Chernoff was still excited about the benefits it will bring to Castlegar.
“This project represents a significant investment in our community. The overall project is close to $23 million and the site construction alone is expected to be around $12 million,” said Chernoff. “It will bring both short-term construction jobs and long-term jobs to our community on a daily basis, which makes a huge investment into our community.”
The employees relocating from South Slocan to Castlegar will also no doubt spend money at local businesses, which will benefit the city economically.
Revelstoke-based general contractor Vic Van Isle Construction is building the facility, which is expected to be complete by October 2017.