Delivery of fibre-optic service for Slocan Valley pushed back three years

·4 min read

People looking forward to high-speed internet in the Slocan Valley and Nakusp are going to have to wait – the company running the project has pushed the completion date back three years.

The Columbia Basin Broadband Corporation now says it won’t complete installation of a fibre-optic line until March 2023 – about three years later than the plan when the project was announced.

“The key factor influencing timing is project permitting, but environmental and habitat considerations are also a factor, and some permits remain outstanding for portions of the planned build,” says the corporation on its website. “CBBC continues to actively work with permitting agencies.”

“Significant progress occurred over the summer in term of receiving permits for the rail trail and the lakes. Archaeological work has commenced on the rail trail and landing sites.”

When first announced in 2019, local politicians had said they wanted the project completed by March 2020. Even then that was seen as an “aggressive” deadline for such a massive project, with more than 120 kilometres of high-speed fibre optic cable being laid from Playmor junction to Nakusp. The cable would be buried underground along the Slocan Valley rail trail, laid along the bottom of Slocan Lake, run along utility poles and laid in Summit Lake to Nakusp, and then laid in the Arrow Reservoir to just north of Nakusp at Shoreholme. The project cost is estimated at $7.2 million.

What CBBC officials had hoped would take a summer to do – permitting – is now expected to take until May of 2021. Only after all the clearances are approved can work begin. Construction is expected to begin in summer 2021. Then they project nearly two years’ worth of work to do the installation.

The CBBC updated its website with the new timetable on the project in October, but even as early as the summer the then head of the project, Dave Lampron, had signalled that permitting was slowing things down.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has contributed to delays in processing the necessary permit applications and a number of permits remain outstanding,” he wrote in response to Valley Voice inquiries in July. “Construction start continues to depend on permit approval.”

Lampron has since left the CBBC for the private sector. A spokesman for the organization’s parent company, the Columbia Basin Trust, said interviews for a new Chief Operating Officer have been completed and a replacement is expected to be announced this month.

“Frustrating”

“I’m not surprised,” says Silverton Mayor Jason Clarke, who said he had seen briefing notes flagging the new three-year timetable. “But it is frustrating.”

He says the Slocan Valley has been chronically underserved by the big telecom companies.

“We’re starved for high speed, for connectivity, and I think everyone you talk to around here all understand it is a major economic driver,” he says. One project Silverton has pinned a measure of its economic development hopes on – a co-working space for telecommuters – depends on having high speed internet service.

“High speed is part of the backbone of that kind of operation, if you’re looking to use [a co-working space] as a place to telecommute,” he says.

“Local government and stakeholders agree that faster and more reliable internet is a necessity for our communities to prosper,” adds Ron Leblanc, Slocan Valley economic development coordinator. “In these times, especially with the impacts of COVID-19, residents rely on internet more than ever for distant learning, commerce and social connecting through video calls.

“I know all parties are taking connectivity seriously and making it a priority,” he adds. “Delays to this process are unfortunate.”

Despite the delay, Clarke says he has nothing but praise for the way the Columbia Basin Broadband Corporation has managed the project on behalf of the communities.

“In my experience, the CBT and Columbia Basin Broadband have been fantastic to work with,” he says. “I firmly believe they are doing their very best. These hurdles aren’t insurmountable, but they definitely have to be overcome.”

Meanwhile, the timetable for the CBBC’s sister project in the East Kootenay has also been pushed back for completion to May 2023. It will see fibre-optic cable installed mainly on utility poles between Jaffray and the US border, south of Cranbrook.

In the recently released CBT Strategic Plan 2020-22, one of the priorities is to “increase reliable, affordable, high-speed connectivity in the Basin with an emphasis on underserved rural areas.”

John Boivin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Valley Voice