Some Coastal GasLink pipeline workers could be housed at hotels in Terrace as work ramps up this summer and the workforce expands by hundreds.
Representatives of the project developer met with Terrace city council June 19 to provide an update on the company’s plans heading into the summer construction season. During spring, construction efforts on the leg of pipeline close to Kitimat were focused on clearing the pipeline’s path — work that can largely be performed by local workers, said Kiel Giddens, public affairs manager with TC Energy, which is overseeing the pipeline project.
The pipeline route stretches from northeastern gasfields to the LNG Canada facility, also under construction, at Kitimat.
But with the summer construction season approaching, contractors are preparing to begin main line construction and will need significantly more workers. It’s expected that the first pipe in ground will be on the Kitimat leg of the pipeline, sometime mid-July, said Jessica Stephens, public affairs advisor for TC Energy, in the update to council. Stephens also said construction work will begin soon on a meter station near Kitimat, which will be the last such station on the pipeline and will measure the gas that will go to the LNG Canada facility.
Stephens said there are currently 191 Coastal GasLink workers at Sitka Lodge, a workforce accommodation site in Kitimat, but that number is expected to climb to 600 by the end of July and to peak at 650 by November. There are also 36 workers staying at Hunter Creek Lodge northeast of Kitimat, and occupancy there is expected to peak at 76 workers.
Giddens told council that the project developer tries to avoid housing workers outside workforce accommodations because they don’t want to disrupt local rental markets, but sometimes it might be necessary to do so in order to maintain pandemic health guidance distancing in the workforce accommodation facility. Terrace hotels could be a good alternative option, Giddens said.
“Local hotels, if that is something that still can be considered, I think there is still room for that. There is going to be times during construction when those still may be required,” he said.
Councillor Sean Bujtas said local hotels have been hit hard by a decrease in tourism due to the pandemic, and he would support hotels being used by Coastal GasLink.
“I’d personally support the use of hotels this year, because obviously the tourism industry has been impacted, so if there’s a need to use our hotels to maintain that social distancing, I would fully support that,” he said.
Councillor Brian Downie and Mayor Carol Leclerc also voiced support for the use of hotels.
Local workers are always a priority, Giddens told council, but this phase of the project will require workers coming from other provinces and possibly even some international workers. He noted that most of the international workers for the project have been living locally for over a year.
Ben Rayner, manager of safety programs on the project, said anyone traveling from an international location would be required to self-quarantine for 14 days, per federal guidelines, and would do so in large centres such as Vancouver or Calgary because those areas have the most robust healthcare systems. He also said workers coming from other provinces are strongly encouraged to drive instead of fly.
“The protocols are really just around journey management, using hotels safely, using vehicles to come in,” he told council. “As well, prior to that journey we also make sure that any of those workers are not showing any signs of symptoms, there’s a pre-questionnaire that they need to fill out and observe before they come into the area, and there is a short interview as well with a supervisor, just to ensure that person is ready for that journey, and they’re in good healthy shape.”
Coastal GasLink representatives also asked council if workers would be welcome at businesses in the community if pandemic safety guidelines were to further relax in B.C.
Downie said workers would be welcome in Terrace if B.C. were to reach phase 3 of its gradual reopening plan.
“The question is probably more education of the communities by the project, by Coastal GasLink, of what kind of measures you put in place, what happens where there is a person with COVID-19,” he said. “I think any community would want to know all the conditions these workers are facing so they understand the extent of the risk.”
Giddens said Coastal GasLink has been communicating its project COVID-19 safety measures. Literature on the Coastal GasLink website states that COVID-19 safety priorities for workers include limiting interaction with communities, following all government guidelines, and access to personal protective equipment.