REPORTING · 10th July 2015
“We are making history today,” said Kevin Dobbin. “The future is here.”
Henning Hall, the cafeteria at the Rio Tinto Alcan Aluminium Smelter was packed full of people for the presentation of the first hot metal, on Tuesday, July 7th. The first two ingots cast were rolled into the hall by Michel Charron, KMP Project Director with Rio Tinto’s Technology and innovation Group, Phil Newsome, KMP Project Director for Bechtel, Gaby Poirier, BC Operations General Manager, Sean O'Driscoll, Unifor 2301 president, Mayor Phil Germuth, Haisla Nation Deputy Chief Councillor Taylor Cross and Paul Henning, Vice President of Strategic Projects.
On June 29th, pot 2004 was tapped and the aluminum was transferred to casting where 3.5 tonnes of molten aluminum were made into ingots. The plant currently has 8-10 out of 384 pots in operations, which will be able to produce 420,000 metric tonnes of aluminum per year, 50% more aluminum than the old smelter at full capacity.
Pot 2004 was selected based on location. It was the first pot to be active and was chosen for logistic purposes.
“We’ve been waiting for that moment for a long time,” said Poirier. “The last time we did this kind of event in Kitimat was 60 years ago, August 1954. So truly today, we are making history and I think we all have to be very proud of it.”
Poirier expressed his hopes that the KMP will secure the future for Rio Tinto in British Columbia, supplying high quality, low carbon footprint aluminum to their customers.
Charron expressed this event marked how close they were to completing construction. There is still a small percentage to be completed and it always takes the longest. He explained there is some construction being done in one of the pot lines and some asphalt that needs to be installed in addition to some final clean up. The final budget figure will be about 4.8 billion.
During the presentations, Poirier and Hereditary Chief Sammy Robinson unveiled a totem pole which was carved by Robinson and will serve as a symbol of Rio Tinto’s Commitment to the Haisla Nation. The pole will remain in Henning Hall. The pole was blessed to keep the Hall and everyone in it safe from harm.
“Production of the first hot metal at our transform facility is symbolized by these ingots on display, which means that construction is now on the home stretch of the journey,” said Charron. He stated the project was about leadership, dedication, determination and teamwork.
Newsome stated there were many challenges which the project faced, but he was proud of the sustained progress they made since March 2014, sustaining 1% progress per week. He stated all the teams came together to break through major barriers.
Germuth explained the town of Kitimat is here because of Alcan, which was, in the 1950s, considered to be the most expensive project by private industry. He thanked Rio Tinto for the continued contribution to the community.
“The company has always shown respect for the past, and enthusiasm and a positive vision for the future. The Modernization Project will not only increase production, but it has been completed using the most cost effective, energy efficient technology available,” said Germuth.
“Even though the economic climate was difficult through the journey we’ve been through,” began Henning. “I always felt very fortunate that I had support at every level. We continued to get funding even though sometimes it was smaller than we wanted. We got funding at key moments to keep this project alive. We engaged at different levels the creativity and construction.”
Cross expressed it was great for big companies to protect the environment.
There were a lot of thanks given by the speakers to the many individuals who made the Modernization Project such a success. There was also a lot of praise for the level of safety. There were 3500 employees on site with an outstanding safety record.
“In May of 2015, we obtained 3,600,000 hours without a lost time injury, an important achievement for a project of that scale,” said Charron. “The year to date lost time is currently at a rate of .09.”
Poirier stated safety will remain their top priority. O’Driscoll stated the Union has been heavily involved is making safety recommendations and implementing them in the workplace.
Henning stated the project has set the bar for the projects to follow in the terms of safety performance; it was ‘the best in class.’
A number of the dignitaries thanked the Haisla Nation and the people of Kitimat for their support.
Cross stated the project has created a lot of opportunities for the Haisla Nation, for contracts and training. Their unemployment rate dropped and any member of the Nation who wanted work was working. With the project at an end, their unemployment rate would be going up again and Cross hoped their people will be a part of the running smelter.
Poirier stated the Haisla will still be involved in the Modernized Smelter. A Haisla joint venture is responsible for the catering for the cafeteria. They will be looking for other opportunities for Haisla to work in the plant.
Henning commented on the rest of Kitimat.
“I truly believe KMP is a catalyst for megaprojects in the Northwest,” said Henning. “[Other projects] are looking to come to Kitimat because of its location. But, I think you’ve also demonstrated as a community that they’re coming to Kitimat because of its people. As a host community, you’ve demonstrated that you can live alongside and with and support 3,500 construction professionals at any given time.”
Rio Tinto Alcan hopes to ramp up production having everything on line by 2016. They hope to celebrate again once they reach full capacity.
“Everything starts with a dream,” said Poirier.
Sammy Robinson unveils the Carved Totem Pole that will Grace Henning Hall
Mayor Phil Germuth in his Rio Tinto outfit says a few words.