Get cracking on East-West Tie, say northwest leaders: Government delays in power line expansion project causes exodus of skilled labour.

Author:Ross, Ian

Workers who were trained to start building the East-West Tie transmission line this fall are transitioning into other industrial jobs.

This slow exodus comes from the uncertainty over when construction of the multimillion-dollar power line expansion.

Ontario Energy Board (OEB) hearings began in early October on two competing bids from NextBridge Infrastructure and Hydro One.

According to Matthew Dupuis, chief of the Red Rock Indian Band, time is of the essence and there seems to be no sense of urgency by the new Ford government to get the often-delayed project back on track.

Dupuis is also president of Supercom Industries, a contracting and training joint venture run by six First Nation communities on the north shore of Lake Superior across whose traditional land the power line project will cross.

Its mandate is to maximize First Nation involvement in the more than $700-million development by supplying skilled labour, negotiating service and supply contracts, and cultivating business partnerships.

The Supercom training program was built around the schedule of having the graduates ready to go when construction was to begin this fall.

"The idea was no gaps. There was continuous training linked to employment," said Dupuis.

With the OEB hearing putting the project schedule on indefinite hold, Dupuis said Supercom is looking out for its graduates' best interests by helping them secure work in the mining, forestry and road construction fields.

Thus far, their training program produced 195 skilled and semi-skilled graduates such as line-clearing and power line crew, heavy equipment operators, mechanics and electricians.

Some have found work with Barrick Gold at Hemlo and the Harte Gold mine project near White River.

Dupuis estimates there's about 60 left in their labour pool. He doesn't know if that departed workforce will return.

"To tell you the truth, that's not a concern of mine. We did this to get the workforce ready for this project.

"As someone who's involved in employment and training, what I'm worried about is that we're going to lose the trust of the individuals."

The East-West Tie is a 450-kilometrelong power line upgrading project between Wawa and Thunder Bay.

It involves construction of a double-circuit 230 kilovolt (kV) transmission line along the north shore.

The line would roughly parallel the existing corridor. The in-service date is late 2020.

The additional transmission capacity, connected to Ontario's grid, would provide a...

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