Wednesday March 15, 2023 | LANGFORD, BC [Updated March 18, 2023]
by Mary P Brooke | Island Social Trends
It’s not quite like ‘the earth moved’, but pretty close.
In Langford the moving of a hydro tower (‘the pole’) that has impeded expansion of a prominent sports stadium is a big deal.
Not only for intensively prepared BC Hydro crews to get ready for the two-week project, but for the broader economics and social activity of the broader community.
BC Hydro crews are dealing with both high voltage and the public, it’s quite the mix.
Two-week project started 7 years ago:
Planning for this project took about seven years. That’s from the first mention of it by then Langford Mayor Stew Young who wanted to see expansion of the then Westhills Stadium (now Starlight Stadium) so that larger events could be held there, to now.
News articles have been written about the desired hydro pole relocation for years, and the pole has even had its own Twitter account. The pole was lovingly painted purple to be part of the Pacific FC purple theme, making it part of the solution as it remained part of the problem (seating expansion for soccer and rugby games was impeded by BC Hydro’s safety concerns).
Planning by engineers included coming up with a safe design for lines across the load, and sorting out how to avoid large scheduled power outages that might have impacted large chunks of south Vancouver Island. Detailed engineering work has taken up much of the last two years, says Al Pineau, manager for construction services, Line Department, BC Hydro.
“It took seven years to fully determine the best placement for new poles, so we would just have to move them once while not hindering buildings or access,” Pineau told Island Social Trends last week.
“We did a lot of work in the field to reconfigure the grid to make sure people wouldn’t be out of power,” said Pineau. BC Hydro wanted to avoid doing this work in the coldest winter months just in case the power did have to be offline. Households and businesses might have been without power in the west shore and far beyond right out to Sooke, Jordan River and Port Renfrew. if people only knew!
Closer to the action period, traffic arrangements were sorted out so the City of Langford could advise media and motorists. Businesses and residents in the immediate area were advised of the upcoming work.
The raison d’être for the project was for safety reasons to move the hydro transmission tower from its position in front of Starlight Stadium (formerly Westhills Stadium).
“For the last 10 years we’ve been very concerned about it, with all the action happening around those poles,” said Ted Olynyk who is BC Hydro’s community relations manager for the Vancouver Island-Sunshine Coast region.
In the past few years somehow the stadium managed to get TV camera crews under that pole as well as the player benches and various vendor booths and food trucks. It appears BC Hydro turned a bit of a blind eye to that (though ‘compatible use agreements’ were issued one year), as that much concentrated use of the stadium would be for only a few hours at a time.
“Then there was a decision not to allow it because you have a larger number of people underneath there. And things do happen. We weren’t prepared to put the public at risk like that. A small number of media personnel and team personnel was allowed underneath that (with the rationale that) people can walk under a line anytime.”
An outdoor pop-up COVID immunization Vax Van clinic was held by Island Health close by to that side of the stadium field in July 2021, for a few hours during one game.
“There’s been a sigh of relief internally that we’ve been able to move the pole and reduce the risk,” said Olynyk in speaking with Island Social Trends last week. That was quite the admission. Perhaps part of the delay was the City of Langford coming up with funds to pay for the ‘customer-driven’ project. Last year the previous Langford council approved $4 million for the work.
Paying for the job:
The City of Langford’s budget for the hydro pole move is $4,250,000. “We have heard from BC Hydro that it may come in under budget, but we won’t have the final figure until after the work is complete,” it was stated to Island Social Trends.
“In the event the actual cost comes in less than that, which is projected, the City will receive a refund of the difference,” according to the City of Langford.
Fences and flaggers:
On-the-ground work commenced the weekend before last, on Sunday March 5. Fences were set up to protect the public and contain the work area.
There have been plenty of trucks and equipment on site since then, as well as crew: 14 engineers and linemen as well as 14 flaggers.
It’s been more than about moving one transmission tower but also moving the pole across the road and making sure lines that cross the road are positioned at the best angle, explains Pineau.
“We have no room to compromise when it comes to safety,” says Olynyk. “We’re not going to put anybody in harm’s way or have the potential for anything to happen,” he said about the on-the-ground strategy for carrying out the hydro pole project along Langford Parkway.
“It’s never convenient. People have busy lives. For the most part, people have been excellent, traffic has flowed well from what I’ve heard. People have been respectful of the flaggers and crews. Unfortunately there are those who don’t follow the rules of the flaggers. This is the start of work season on roads,” says Olyynk. He reminds people to show down and plan ahead.
Pouring two concrete footings was part of the preparation, one on each side of Langford Parkway, Pineau said on site last week.
In total, two poles are being moved and three locations are involved. One project per day, March 14, 15 and 16. The momentum event of taking out the pole (or moving the transmission lines from it) at the stadium and setting up the new cross-road configuration was scheduled for March 16.
Friday March 17 will be cleanup. What might have taken all month (per the traffic advisories) will be in and done over this two-week period.
“The timing of the work was critical,” says Olynyk. “It wasn’t just about moving the pole, we had to time it based on the weather. And for moving the transmission line it had to be taken out of service. The load had to be low enough to move that transmission load to other lines. So we had to wait for the weather and hoped to not see another cold stretch,” said the long-time BC Hydro rep.
“There were some distribution challenges on the first day or two, we appreciate people’s patience with that,” said Olynyk. But there were no mass outages. “We distributed load to other lines. Some lines couldn’t handle sudden boosts in load; one feeder wasn’t set just right so it caused some momentary outages (just a few minutes each) for some customers in the early part of last week. Long enough just to be frustrating,” he said, as those would have been unexpected outages.
Poles and lines:
Cranes pick off the bolts and the pieces are laid on the yard. The civil group cuts up the metal and hauls it away. The materials are recycled here on Vancouver Island, says Pineau.
In his 23-year career with power utilities (18 of those as a manager with BC Hydro), this is one of the most challenging jobs that Pineau has worked on. “It’s not a very large job but there are a lot of moving parts,” he told Island Social Trends at the site last week. “The sheer volume of participants and traffic” was an obvious concern. “There was a lot of planning to keep businesses open and safe.”
“This has certainly been one of the bigger customer-driven projects” in the Vancouver Island region, said Olynyk about the fact that the City of Langford initiated this project.
Project complexities have included:
- Reconfiguration of the distribution feeders (ahead of time). That was about re-routing supply from one transmission line (138 kV) off to the different feeders (25 kV).
- Coordinate timing (ahead of the stadium season), be out of the winter heavy load period, and get permission to do the work (based on various technical approvals).
- Work took a lot of planning — for a couple of years to get everything in place for the experienced crews to execute this project in a populated urban environment.
- The new poles (towers) are made of a heavier gauge steel that can carry heavier angles and workloads of the power lines that go across the road. The towers have been built on site.
- The layout and scope was complex: businesses, parking, pedestrians, poles on two sides of the street, a major street with heavy traffic, working on live lines, etc.
- Safe corridors for pedestrians needed to be set up. There was relocation of fencing from time to time, as work areas changed.
- Traffic flow needed to be coordinated, and some project work was timed for avoiding the peak traffic periods.
- Trying not to hinder business. On that first Sunday there was a rugby game at the stadium, hockey in the arena, the bowling alley patrons, and other users of the City Centre amenities.
- Avoiding any scheduled power outages.
Pride in their project:
Technically it’s a difficult job for the linemen. One circuit stays live (fully energized at 138 kV) while they work on the non-active line. It’s a fine balancing act, and too dangerous to do at night (if that were a concern for drivers who found the daytime traffic interruptions inconvenient).
“The workers take pride in their work and building the province with projects like this,” said Olynyk. “When it’s all done, the workers can say ‘we were part of that”. About the Langford Parkway reconfiguration project Olynyk says: “It’s pretty skookum work.”
The City of Langford and former Mayor Stew Young and his council can also take pride in this project. It was their vision to expand the stadium (now aiming for 10,000 seating capacity) to support bigger economic impacts for the west shore and the broader goal of elevating Langford to the status of ‘national sports capital’ (though much of that thunder has been relocated to Vancouver with the launch of Vancouver FC this year, as well as bigger events like the Invictus Games in 2025 and FIFA World Cup in 2026 all focused on Vancouver).
All in all, this is quite the chapter for the Langford history books.
Followup March 17:
The job is done.
===== RELATED ARTICLES by ISLAND SOCIAL TRENDS:
LANGFORD TRAFFIC: Hydro pole relocation on Langford Parkway (March 5, 2023)
Vax Van at Pacific FC home game in Langford July 30 (July 29, 2021)
Construction of new bleachers underway at Westhills Stadium (Jan 31, 2019)
===== ABOUT ISLAND SOCIAL TRENDS:
Island Social Trends is a professional news service that covers news of the west shore of Greater Victoria on south Vancouver Island, as well as BC-wide and national issues. Editor and publisher: Mary P Brooke.
Island Social Trends launched entirely online at islandsocialtrends.ca in mid-2020, in the footstep of its predecessor print publications MapleLine Magazine (2008-2010), Sooke Voice News (2011-2013) and West Shore Voice News (2014-2020).