Flying high by helicopter along the Churchill River towards Muskrat Falls, you can spot lines cutting through otherwise untouched sections of forest.
Dropping closer to the land, the lines gradually grow wider, until heavy equipment becomes easy to spot within them — workers creating a treeless path through the Labrador wilds.
Should the Lower Churchill development be ultimately sanctioned by Nalcor Energy and approved by government, this access road will be a main artery for contractors moving people and equipment to and from Muskrat Falls.
A clearing just off the emerging roadway, a campsite for contract workers should the project proceed, is also in development.
Down river, a similar clearing was created decades ago, in anticipation of the development of a hydro dam at the Gull Island site — a project that was not given a final green light.
Back at Nalcor’s office in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, Lower Churchill project leader Gilbert Bennett said contracts awarded to date on the present-day Lower Churchill plans cover the creation of the new road, as well as the building of communications infrastructure through Bell Aliant and a power line to supply dam site work.
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“Work is valued at the tens of millions of dollars and it’s important though for us to get this work underway right now so when we do sanction the project we’re in a position that we can actually start work immediately and that we’re not waiting several months in order to start work at the site,” he said, explaining the work as a calculated risk.
Waiting on the prep would risk pushing back the overall schedule and, as a result, cost overruns.
“I think the most important thing is there is a tremendous amount of work that has been done in preparation for a sanction decision,” said Nalcor’s president and CEO, Ed Martin.
Martin said updated cost estimates for the overall project are in, following detailed engineering work on the proposed hydro dam and Labrador-island power transmission system.
“The fact of the matter is when we come forward with a recommendation in the coming weeks to the provincial government that we will have our homework done, it’ll be very detailed and we’ll be in a position to offer a recommendation.”
Meanwhile, Manitoba Hydro International is continuing its review of the project, he said, adding that review process is “about half way through.”
Martin said the Crown corporation continues to be open to questions in regards to the project.
Debate on the project is scheduled for the House of Assembly this fall.