Building a pipeline through the region has been an economic boon and a stabilizing factor in local communities, but there are some potholes on the road of industry.
A contingent from the pipeline’s principal companies, TC Energy and Coastal Gas Link (TCE and CGL), made a presentation at the last public meeting of the Regional District of Bulkley Nechako updating their progress and gathering feedback from elected directors.
While the majority of the dialogue was appreciative, on one particular safety issue, TCE and CGL were told by multiple directors to pump the brakes.
Chris Newell, RDBN Area G representative (which includes Topley and Houston), was most outspoken.
“As of late, I haven’t been real happy with how things have been going with our relationship, to be quite honest. I’ve had concerns with transportation, I’ve had concerns with economic things, legacy funding for Area G, and about waste management.”
He zeroed in on the transportation issues primarily.
Answering for the companies was Nicole Stuckert, the project’s senior land management representative, and in charge of road use agreements. She said, “TC Energy and Coastal GasLink recognizes that driving is the most dangerous thing that we do each and every day as a part of our work…We take it really seriously and we evaluate our driving safety performance daily.”
She outlined that using the resource roads in the region’s backcountry necessitated CGL-TCE putting special attention on radio protocols as vehicles communicated throughout that network. The companies also boosted signage and other communication forms, pertaining to being on those roads. In some cases, speed limits were reduced to improve safety in certain spots.
Newell said certain things still needed speedy attention, or he feared for tragedy.
“What this revolves around is recent accidents that have happened and the approach Coastal GasLink has taken, and the attitude that if we’re dealing with contractors that aren’t direct Coastal GasLink employees, that it seems like your hand are wiped of the situation,” Newell said. He cited a serious motor vehicle incident and a number of “issues on the road…and other close calls” that he felt were getting too little attention by the parent companies.
He noted that there was so much radio activity, it was hard for other parties to be heard over the abundance of pipeline vehicles. “What happens is, you walk over the rest of the traffic on the radio,” and it degrades safety, he said.
“You also have to clear the down-traffic,” Newell added. “That’s an issue as well. I’ve seen it firsthand. A lot of times there’s long convoys. I’ve seen signs that say convoys shouldn’t be larger than three, but in reality what happens is groups of three probably leave your camp with all good intention, and then people being people, they catch up with other groups, and all of a sudden you’ve got convoys of seven, 10, 12 vehicles and your pullouts are only designed for a logging truck, so three of them make it into a pullout and the rest hang out the back end of it. You’ve got down-traffic, in the case of logging trucks upwards of 70,000 kilograms, that can’t stop on a dime, having to contend with this traffic that’s spilled out onto the road. I don’t feel that has been addressed.”
Newell also felt that the traffic incidents reported to him outnumbered those official recorded in the companies’ reports.
Stuckert replied that TCE-CGL was aware of the convoy bunching and was in conversation with forest company Canfor, especially, because they are the main road licensee in much of the resource transportation system.
“We are doing a full evaluation of all of the pullouts to see if there is an ability for us to potentially build some additional ones, and working with them on scheduling, especially during our rushes, because that is when we’re seeing the bunching when the up-traffic has to pull over for the down-traffic, because they have the right of way, and so when you have that happening over multiple periods of time then the pullouts end up getting busy and the convoys end up getting larger when they started out as three. So these are conversations we’re having weekly with Canfor and the Ministry of Forests and coming up with ways to address this, and just to reduce our traffic volume of regular pickups going up and down the system. I can assure you this is something we spend a lot of time on and we take very seriously.”
Stuckert also spoke on the reporting system TCE-CGL has in place and said it was a “robust tracking system for incidents, near misses and such” plus road monitors hired to scout the road systems looking for problems proactively.
A significant program of upgrades and maintenance had been applied to the resource roads and bridges, so that the whole network would be as good or better when the project closed.
Newell pointed out that the project has been underway for two years already and the pullout bunching and convoy clogging has not been addressed, so he worried that the pace of response was too slow.
“Four hundred vehicles leave the Huckleberry Camp each morning at 6 a.m. Four hundred,” he said. “What’s it going to take, someone to get killed? The consequences of not doing something about this is, someone potentially getting hurt.”
Clint Lambert is the RDBN representative for Area E, Francois Lake/Ootsa rural. Lambert added that “When the snow builds up, the roads are narrower and bush roads are always slick. So if you’ve got 400 vehicles a day out there, there’s going to be issues, with that many logging trucks also in there. If they don’t do something quick, something is going to happen in the next month or two.”
Suggestions were voiced about mandatory car pooling and company buses to help reduce the number of vehicles using the backroads. More and bigger pullout would require construction efforts to get underway as close to immediately as possible, regardless of winter’s arrival.
The conversation was held in order to get these concerns and possible solutions on the public record, since the projects proponents are required to communicate all such dialogue to other branches of government.