The powerhouse area is the size of a football field and is 10 storeys deep. Visitors crossed the top level during the tour. Photo by David Gordon Koch/Campbell River Mirror

VIDEO: B.C. tour offers unique underground glimpse of generating station

About 1,250 people expected at sold-out tour on Sunday

Hundreds of people got a unique glimpse into the inner workings of the new John Hart generating station on Sunday during a sold-out tour.

It was the fourth – and final – in a series of annual site tours at BC Hydro’s $1.1 billion facility – and the only one taking visitors to the depths of the new power station.

Tom Helina, a Campbell River resident, was impressed by what he saw.

BC Hydro spokesperson Stephen Watson speaking to visitors at the underground facilities of the new John Hart generating station. Photo by David Gordon Koch/Campbell River Mirror

“Just amazing,” he said. “It’s above amazing. Incredible. Unreal. Spooky too.”

Yellow school buses carried visitors down a bumpy tunnel road to the powerhouse cavern, with its rough-hewn walls and high-powered machinery.

The powerhouse area is the size of a football field and 10 storeys deep. Its lower levels weren’t accessible to visitors, but water could be heard coursing through a water bypass valve below.

Roger LaRose, one of the visitors on Sunday morning, said he was fascinated by the size of the facility.

“Just the sheer magnitude of the underground stuff, that’s pretty interesting,” he said.

Stephen Watson, a BC Hydro spokesperson and tour guide, noted that some of the machinery is already active, so visitors were strictly forbidden from wandering off.

READ MORE: Water flows through the John Hart tunnels

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READ MORE: Road closure at John Hart Dam delayed

Members of the public were enthusiastic about the event, he said.

“This is what everyone wants – they want to go underground, drive down the tunnels, go into the powerhouse,” said Watson. “Just to see that reaction from people is so cool.”

About 1,250 visitors were expected for the one-day event. Among the visitors was Donna McCrae, who said she was curious about the technology – especially because she used to live along the Campbell River, which powers the hydro facility.

“I was always interested in the highs and lows of the river,” she said.

About 1,250 people were scheduled to visit the dam during the sold-out tour on Sunday. Photo by David Gordon Koch/Campbell River Mirror

Tickets were $5 each and sold out immediately when the box office opened on July 11. High traffic volumes caused the website of Tidemark Theatre, which handled ticket sales, to briefly crash, said Watson.

Any trouble in obtaining tickets for the event was well worthwhile, said Susie LaRose, another underground visitor.

“It was worth it,” she said. “Awesome day.”

Some Campbell River residents on social media asked whether there would be another chance to check out the subterranean site. But there are no plans for another tour, said Watson.

“This was the one and only chance,” he said, citing complicated logistics and safety issues.

“There was a lot of happy people who went on the tour and Sunday but were probably more than that were disappointed,” he said. “I get that.”

The tour took place as BC Hydro prepares to make the facility fully operational. One of three generators at John Hart are now online, and the other two come online next month.

BC Hydro opted to replace the 70-year-old power station for better strength in case of a major earthquake. The facility is also meant to be more reliable and to protect fish habitat downstream.

Correction: A previous version of this story stated that two generators are online. According to BC Hydro, one is online, and the other two become operational in October.

@davidgordonkoch
david.koch@campbellrivermirror.com

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