Project manager Boyd Mason likens the $748-million Ruskin Dam renovation to giving your car’s motor an overhaul and replacing the brakes and tires while you’re driving down the freeway.
But by this time next year, most of that work should be done and that vehicle should be ready to be put into overdrive.
“This is the final push for the contractors,” said Mason. “This is that final push. The next five months represent the final push for the contractors.”
About 300 workers are now on site in a relatively small location, jammed between the rock faces of either side of Hayward Lake, trying to refit the dam and get it ready for a one-in-10,000-year earthquake. They’re busy trying to ensure that the second of two of the three new generators will be installed by the end of January with the final and third generator installed by the end of next summer.
Each generator cranks out about 38 megawatts of power.
As well, in the next six months, two more of the strengthened spillway gates will be installed, with the fifth and final to be done by this time next year. The new gates weigh twice that of the old ones and have double the amount of steel.
Spillway gates are crucial for a hydro dam because if an earthquake hits, the gates could jam, making the whole dam inoperable.
By the end of next summer, the final touches can be done and ready for the grand opening in spring 2018.
“It’s an unusual project, there’s no doubt about it. That’s what made an incredible challenge for everybody,” Mason said.
It’s unusual because it’s a brown field project and entails rebuilding an existing facility, all the while keeping the dam operating so it can keep producing the 379 gigawatt hours of badly needed power for about 35,0000 Metro Vancouver homes.
Mason has been on site since 2008 and says it’s been a challenging project, as expected.
On the west side, by Wilson Street, of the dam, bedrock was found to be four metres deeper than expected near the location of the first pier.
Also found was an underground railway, buried and undiscovered for years. A specially designed cut-off wall using flexible membrane to withstand a quake also had to be designed for the west side to manage seepage flows and force water away from the dam in case of a quake.
Mason gave MLAs Marc Dalton and Doug Bing a tour of the project, which lies on the border of Maple Ridge and Mission, on Friday.
In addition to technical challenges, the weather hasn’t helped.
“Mother Nature has not been my friend,” Mason said.
It’s either rained too much, requiring water to be spilled from the dam, or there’s been too little rain, also requiring the dam to release water in order to supply the fish downstream in the Stave River.
Being in the hydroelectricity business, he doesn’t mind rain, which recharges the reservoir, which ensures a stable supply of hydroelectricity.
“Hey, that’s a fuel delivery for us. We’re happy. Keep it coming.”
Part of the legend of the Ruskin Dam is the old light bulb, said to have been lit since the dam was built.
It will have to be moved, but it’s not known yet where.
“That’s not my call.”
While the main dam opened in November 1930, the actual wall of concrete built back then and which keeps the water back, has been judged to be earthquake worthy.
Only the top piers and gates need strengthening and rebuilding.
Once it’s all done, it should be a century before the next rebuild is required.
In addition to new turbines installed at the bottom of the dam and which are eight per cent more efficient, the esthetics of the site will be noticeable.
There’s already a new exterior on the powerhouse. One of the final projects will be moving the switchyard from its current home atop the powerhouse to a nearby hill.
The top of the dam will be widened allowing two traffic lanes plus a sidewalk.
“The local community is going to be pretty happy when they see that dam and they see that powerhouse. They’ll have some of the most unique real estate in North America.”