More than two years after first being announced, crews have broken ground on a project to bring the Slocan Valley into the 21st century world of communication.
Work on the $10-million, 120-kilometre fibre-optic line from Playmor Junction to north of Nakusp began last month with a crew in Slocan village setting up its construction site.
“Equipment will then be moved to Kennedy Road for the start of the rail trail install heading south to Elliot Creek bridge on Thursday, May 20,” said Delphi Hoodicoff, head of communication for the Columbia Basin Trust, the organization spearheading the project. “Picking up again on Tuesday, May 25, conduit will be installed from the south side of Elliot bridge, at a pace of about one to two kilometres per day.”
She said by the end of the first week, about 10 kilometres of fibre line should be under the historic rail bed.
The big delay in getting the project started – getting permits to lay the fibre-optic cable underground along the rail trail, along the bottom of Slocan and Summit Lakes and along telephone poles to Nakusp – was almost complete, Hoodicoff told the Valley Voice.
The job has been broken up among several companies. The prime contractor for the rail trail underground work is Axis Technical Services. Lite Access Technologies is handling the pole section of the project (between Hills and Nakusp), with fibre-optic cable being hung sometime in July, depending on when Telus completes its preparation work.
Other prep work began appearing in April. A local Facebook group posted a warning that people with utilities under the heritage rail trail should contact the contractors laying the fibre-optic cable.
“Right now, they are trying to identify all the locations where they potentially may come across a line,” said the post on the Slocan Rail Trail Facebook group page. “They will be digging a narrow trench 18” deep. Most lines are deeper than that and it won’t be an issue. They will be reaching out to adjoining landowners, but we want to make sure no one is missed and that there are no surprises for anyone!”
The Slocan Valley Rail Trail has become a popular recreation amenity during the pandemic, and officials warn there could be some small sections closed off temporarily while work is done on the line.
“Initially, they may be hopping all over the place, prepping sites to link cable segment before they drop in the line,” explains the post. “We are hoping disruption will be minimal, but there may be brief periods when the trail will be closed to traffic.”
Both Rec Sites and Trails BC as well as the Slocan Valley Heritage Trail Society will share updates through their communication channels, say officials.
Work on the underwater section of the project, running the line along the bottoms of Slocan and Summit Lakes, isn’t expected to begin until the fall.
Once the main line is in place, the Columbia Basin Broadband Corporation (CBBC) will work with local internet service providers to set up the last mile connections, allowing homes and businesses to connect to the high-speed network. That work could take several years as well.
Meanwhile, officials are waiting to hear if they’ll receive funding to add several other communities to the fibre-optic line. The CBBC applied for funding in March to build a 70-kilometre spur line from Nakusp down the Arrow Lakes to Burton and Edgewood. It’s part of the CBBC’s overall project to connect 79 rural communities with high-speed service.
However, “we may not know the status of our application to this fund for many months,” Hoodicoff warned.
They’re also waiting to hear the results of their application for funding from the Universal Broadband Fund, and whether some communities qualify for federal support for better internet access. The CBBC had asked residents of Slocan, New Denver, and other communities for information about their internet speeds in an effort to build support for their application.
Two years of work
When the project was first announced in March 2019, officials had optimistically predicted work would be completed in a year. That was seen as ambitious even then, and permitting difficulties and other issues prompted officials to recalculate the timeline last fall.
The project is now expected to be completed by spring of 2023.
The Slocan Valley line is only half the project, with the CBBC planning to build a fibre-optic backbone between Jaffray and Roosville in the East Kootenay, as well.